As a boy, Samuel Goldwyn was an apprentice glovemaker, not a reader, and in the Thirties the late Hollywood mogul had a famously loose acquaintance with the obscure French novels and half-forgotten Italian plays he was always buying in hopes of giving selected MGM talkies a touch of class. So it was no surprise when an underling came to him one day with a problem.
"Mr. Goldwyn," the poor fellow reportedly said, "I don't know what we can do with this book. Don't think we can get this past the censors."
"What's wrong?" Goldwyn demanded.
"Well, sir, it's about lesbians."
Undaunted, the master let fly a choice Goldwynism: "Lesbians, schmesbians. Turn 'em into Czechoslovakians and make the damn picture."
Well, the censors are gone, and so is Czechoslovakia. But it suddenly looks like lesbians are going to stick around movies for a while. After decades of avoiding the subject altogether--it was a long spell between The Children's Hour and Desert Hearts--or portraying lesbians as creeps and wackos, American filmmakers are junking this taboo, too.
It would be nice to report that Bar Girls is the brave little movie that will shine light into a largely unseen world. But it's not.
The ice-pick killer Sharon Stone played in Basic Instinct was widely assailed as a crude caricature of gay "pathology." But in this low-budget first feature by Lauran Hoffman and Marita Giovanni, we are subjected to a dozen grownups who act and talk like morose fourteen-year-olds.
Okay, so the setting is L.A., where the word is not exactly sacred. Still, this screenplay by the Beverly Hills-raised Hoffman, adapted from her autobiographical play, is an amalgam of empty-headed bickering, adolescent intrigue and skin-deep melodrama. The dialogue is sub-Danielle Steel ("I love you enough to...fill the hole in the ozone layer"), and the cardboard characters are set at a pitch of constant hysteria. Some of this is due to the inexperience of cast, author and director; the rest is immaturity. Members of a minority who haven't had much access to movies may be thrilled just to see lesbian characters up there on the screen, but do lesbians usually act like kids overloaded on sweets at a slumber party? Are lesbians obsessed with instant gratification?
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These women do and they are. A frantic cable-TV animator named Loretta (Nancy Allison Wolfe) falls in love with an aspiring actress named Rachel (Liza D'Agostino), but their romance is interrupted by a tough police cadet named J.R. (Camila Griggs), Loretta's ex, a "psycho-jock from Bakersfield" called Annie (Lisa Parker), and four or five of the other women they hang out with in a West Hollywood bar. The bed-switching and partner-switching, the fights and tantrums are meant to feel like real life, but they look like the cheesiest daytime TV.
If any of these characters ever has a real, live thought in her head, we don't know about it. And if any of them does anything but stand at the bar every night getting sloshed, we don't know about that, either. Halfway through, you want to say to everybody: Get a life.
In short, this good-hearted but incredibly clumsy movie blows its chance at bringing a little depth and shading to lesbian love and life. It offers the pleasures of a cheap binge, nothing more.
Happily, though, Goldwyn's Czechoslovakians won't be returning anytime soon. This summer, Fine Line will release an adolescent romance called The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, and half a dozen other movie companies are embracing a subject that's suddenly hot on the Left Coast. Some of them have to do a better job than this.