Aisle of Lesbos

Sapphic sisters chew the fat in talky Everything Relative

If all you knew about lesbians was what you saw in movies made by lesbians, you'd have a pretty dreary picture of the lifestyle. Most of us know a lesbian or three who actually has a sense of humor, whose idea of socializing extends beyond sitting in a semicircle with other lesbians talking about lesbianism or right-wing nuts who hate lesbianism. Indeed, although I know they exist, I've never met any lesbians who conform to the humorless-depressed-hyperpolitical cliche. Yet from "ensemble" lesbian movies like Go Fish, Bar Girls and Sharon Pollack's new one, Everything Relative, you'd think that that was most of the story.

Everything Relative's press materials call it a "lesbian Big Chill." For better and worse, that's exactly what it is, right down to a showpiece scene crosscutting between different sets of lovers. Beyond the obvious, the only variations on the earlier film are the decade--Lawrence Kasdan's counterculture sellouts mooned over the '60s, while the seven ladies in Pollack's film reminisce about coming of age just before the Reagan era--and the tone.

The gathering in The Big Chill was for an untimely funeral. In Everything Relative, conversely, the get-together follows a Bris, suggesting an atmosphere of hope and a new beginning.

Everything Relative is quite a watchable picture, overall. The Bris scene--featuring Harvey Fierstein as the mohel and Mina Bern, Irma St. Paule and Lynn Cohen as a trio of perplexed-but-accepting old Jewish ladies--gets it off to a charming start. But when the eight friends--seven veterans of a street-theater troupe, plus the young date of one of them--decide to spend the weekend in Northampton, Massachusetts (a lesbian version of Provincetown), Pollack's film blunders through a long and fairly dreadful patch before it recovers.

I wouldn't want to defend The Big Chill as a great work of the human spirit, but it sure was slick. Without that slickness, though, the large-group ensemble scenes in Everything tend to melt into a fuzzy mess of jabber from which we can't discern Josie from Maria or Katie from Victoria from Sarah from Gina, or which of the above used to sleep with which others, even though large clumps of unrefined exposition are spooned out, ostensibly explaining it all.

Eventually, Pollack manages to calm down the movie. The actresses are allowed to pair off and talk, quietly, in simple, unforced, genuinely touching dialogue, and the characters, with their Chill-inspired conflicts, finally begin to emerge. Waspy blonde Victoria (Monica Bell) and nice Jewish goil Katie (Stacey Nelkin) are the new parents--Katie took the turkey-baster route with seed from Victoria's brother. Twelve-Stepper Josie (Ellen McLaughlin) has a history with Maria (Olivia Negron), who's lost custody of her kids to her ex-husband. Sarah (Carol Schneider), the token straight, works for Planned Parenthood and, for irony, is trying desperately to get pregnant with her husband (Andrew McCarthy, in the briefest of glimpses).

All of the actresses are good, and if the characters don't seem as sharply defined as those in Chill, that isn't entirely bad--they don't seem as hokily emblematic, either. But one of the characters jumps off the screen at once, even while Pollack has everyone milling around talking at the same time: Luce, the emotionally guarded movie stuntperson startlingly played by Andrea Weber.

Taut of body and terse of speech, yet with a seductively languid smile, Luce is not a woman to be trifled with. Yet it's also clear she's known pain, and is willing to cheat herself to avoid any more of it. She lost a girlfriend years earlier, and although she sleeps around (she's slept at least once with almost everyone in the gang, including the straight Sarah), she can't commit to a serious relationship, even though both her date Candy (Malindi Fickle) and her old pal Gina (Gabriella Messina) would like her to. This may sound like standard soap-opera dramaturgy, but Weber's performance hums with intelligence and excitingly restrained eroticism. It's the sort of acting that makes easy psychology feel valid and fresh, and it's the best element of Everything Relative.

Luce is part of the most stinging plot point in the film. She breaks up with Candy after Candy's nonchalant disclosure that she voted for Pataki for New York governor. Though the other characters mildly chide Luce for being rigid, the film doesn't seem to see it as any great injustice. That "the personal is political" is asserted more than once in the film, and it seems to really annoy the gang that Candy professes no special sense of victimization about being a lesbian.

All politics are finally personal, of course, but when it comes to sex . . . well, let's just say that in a comedy about gay men, a guy who dumped a real dish because, say, he voted for Pat Buchanan might well be seen as a fool with mixed-up priorities (besides, if you're good enough in the sack, who knows how many converts you might make?). Even though sexual liberty is central to the liberal political agenda, movie lesbians (like quite a few straight people) seem depressingly willing to put politics ahead of getting laid.

Everything Relative
Directed by Sharon Pollack; with Ellen McLaughlin, Olivia Negron and Andrea Weber.

Unrated.

 
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