The storyline for All Over Me might be above
and beyond anything that most teenagers experience - it's not
everyone who grows up in Hell's Kitchen surrounded by murder,
drugs and violence - but the fundamental emotional responses the
main characters have to their situations are so universal that
the film still feels relevant years after its release. This
is an important, totally underrated lesbian film, which is not bad for a film where
the word "lesbian" is not once uttered.
Claude (Alison Folland) is fifteen and living in near poverty
with her mother in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in New York.
She's a bit shy, a bit overweight, works in the local pizza parlour,
plays guitar badly, dreams of being in a girl rock band and is
just starting to come to grips with the fact that her sexual feelings
for another girl are deeper than they should be. In other words,
a fairly average lesbian teen.
Claude dotes on her best friend Ellen (Tara Subkoff), a fact
that Ellen knows and takes advantage of at every opportunity.
Everything changes between them when Ellen gets involved with
a local street thug and drug dealer, Mark (Cole Hauser). Ellen
soon finds herself over her head in a world of sex and drugs. Claude is powerless to do anything about it except be there and
cop the fallout. Things come to a head when, after a bitter confrontation,
Mark and his friends are implicated in the murder of Claude's
gay neighbour. Ellen 'fesses up her knowledge of the crime and
Claude is faced with the decision of betraying Ellen and going
to the police, or keeping the secret, despite knowing that would
be betraying everything she is beginning to realise is true to
In the middle of all this, and through the haze of confusion
that is her love for Ellen, Claude forms a mutual attraction to
Lucy (Leisha Hailey in an excellent pre-L
Word stint), a pink-haired, rocker girl she meets at a
lesbian club. However, it is soon obvious that this new, healthy
relationship won't stand a chance unless she can break the shackles
of her desperate connection with Ellen and emerge as her own person.
Along with savvy scripting and directing, it is the near-flawless
performances that make this film what it is. Alison Folland made
three wonderful films back to back before dropping back into obscurity;
this one, the black comedy To Die For and the
chilling Boys Don't Cry.
All Over Me succeeds or fails on her portrayal
of Claude which, despite her inexperience in leading roles, is
just so moving.
Cole Hauser continues his lucrative career playing some of the
best thugs on film (see also his riveting neo-Nazi performance
in Higher Learning).
Also deserving of special mention is Pat Briggs as the gay neighbour
Luke and Leisha Hailey's sweet turn as the streetwise-yet-childlike
Lucy. Tara Subkoff is the film's weakest link as Ellen. Subkoff
is so thin it made me wince every time she walked onscreen, plus
she has a tendency to whine her way through the difficult moments
rather than act.
Just as music plays a huge role in Claude's life, the film's
soundtrack is like another character, with depth, variation and
purpose. From the riot grrl tracks of Lucy's band, through the
indie background tracks (from such classic artists as Ani Difranco, Cornershop
and Helium), to the crushing sounds of Patty Smith's classic "Pissing
in a River" that reduces Claude to tears in Lucy's bedroom,
not a single note seems meaningless or wasted. It's a textbook
example on how music can enhance a film, but not overpower it.
The most difficult lesson for Claude to learn is that no matter
how painful it is, you can't save someone who won't save themselves,
no matter how much you love them. Loyalty is important, but self-respect
is more so. It's a huge lesson for a fifteen year old to learn.
Yet despite everything she goes through, Claude never fully abandons
her youthful optimism and romanticism and, most of all, is not
scared away from trusting someone else with her emotions.
The best endings are when something is lost but enough is gained
to make the sacrifice and pain worthwhile. All Over Me
has one of those truly bittersweet endings that make you believe
that you can make it through, no matter what happens. To my mind,
that is ultimately the most positive message we can be sending
to young lesbians struggling with their sexuality today.
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