By Stephanie Zacharek
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Dedee Truitt, the smirky sixteen-year-old temptress who narrates and dominates Don Roos's The Opposite of Sex, is a conniving but somehow sympathetic little shrew who's bailed out on her feelings early in life. A kind of Lolita-without-portfolio, she gets herself pregnant by a Bible-thumping redneck from Louisiana, then sets out to seduce her half-brother's gay lover in Indiana, then leads the rest of the cast--all neurotic, lovelorn and cynical in various degrees--on a wild chase to Southern California, western Canada and back. Like a one-girl blond plague, she drags everyone she knows down into her troubles.
In the end, Dedee (played by the sullen moppet Christina Ricci) gives birth while squalling obscenities, passes the infant on to her big brother and slouches off into a murky future. "Okay," she concludes. "So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's not all shit."
This observation on the human condition is about as profound as our Mr. Roos cares to get. Earlier in his career, he wrote the screenplays for Love Field, Single White Female and Boys on the Side, pretty fair mainstream jobs all, but none of them what you'd call a mega-hit--and now that this 42-year-old has gotten himself to the director's chair, we can only assume that the vaguely snide, self-conscious, oh-so-postmodern tone of The Opposite of Sex is what he's been after all along--even though it looks and feels and sounds like the work of a much younger man.
Go figure. Here we have yet another meditation on the sexual and ethical tangles enveloping gays and straights (Chasing Amy still wins that trophy), another lukewarm satire on media frenzy and right-wing extremism (both pop up when another high-school teacher is discovered to be gay, a la In and Out), another indulgence of multi-faceted soap opera, in the manner of everything from Titanic to, well, you name it.
In addition to the prematurely world-weary Dedee, we are subjected to the life traumas of half-bro Bill (Martin Donovan), his gay lover, Matt (Ivan Sergei), Bill's sharp-tongued, sexually repressed best friend, Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), whose own late brother was the love of Bill's life, and a hangdog small-town sheriff played (rather dimly) by singer Lyle Lovett. They are uniformly self-absorbed, intermittently bitter and infrequently funny, as befits a little independent movie that means to be hip and quirky and wise in an offhanded kind of way.
"They're cleaner," our girl Dedee says of gays, "if you don't count viruses." This is the kind of low-wattage aphorism Roos seems to favor, but his taste for the postmod doesn't stop there. In the end he proposes to have narrator Dedee bleed to death in the delivery room and bop us with the shock that she's been talking from beyond the grave the whole time, just like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. But that wouldn't do: He administers one last gotcha joke, has Dedee wise off to us one last time and, in the very end, yell at the camera: "Go!"
And if that ain't Nineties self-regard, pumped up and primped and overstuffed, then we've never seen it, any of us.
The Opposite of Sex.
Written and directed by Don Roos. With Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow and Lyle Lovett.
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