a family affair


Written and Directed by: Helen Lesnick

Halfway through a screening of A Family Affair it was palpable that the audience was polarised right down the middle. There were those who were loving the film and those who were clearly waiting for the clock to run down so they could get the hell out of there.

The latter group probably never got past the fact that one of the lovers looked and acted like she'd just walked off the set of Days of Our Lives, with big hair and make-up intact. Some people I spoke to told me they thought the lead characters had no chemistry, that the two female leads weren't appealing, or that they simply just didn't look gay. (I'm sure lesbian writer/director/star Helen Lesnick would be interested to know that some audiences just didn't buy her as a dyke!)

I fell into the former category, a group I suspect was made up of more than one person who got a kick out of the hilarious It's In The Water. I put these films into the same subset of the lesbian genre - films meant to take a swift kick at people who take being gay too seriously, while still providing an appealing love story and a conclusion that was satisfactorily happy and romantic. In fact, I think this was the only film I saw at the 2002 Sydney Gay and Lesbian film festival that boasted a truly happy ending.

Rachel Rosen, a bitter, cynical, New York jewish dyke, moves to California to live near her parents and to escape the clutches of an ex-lover who she has been in an on again-off again relationship with for six years. Rachel has almost the opposite problem of most gays and lesbians - her mother is so proud of her gay daughter that she's become a miltant member of PFLAG. Her life revolves around her daughter's sexuality, while Rachel just wants to be left alone to write and wallow in self pity.

After some disastrous dates to try and get back into the swing of the whole relationship thing, Rachel finally agrees to a blind date set up by, of all people, her interfering mother. Then the impossible happens - she meets Christine, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Californian poster-child - and falls in love.

Suddenly, faced with the possibility of being happy and committed for the first time in her life, Rachel panics and falls back into the arms of her scheming ex-lover Reggie (an interesting appearance by an old favourite Michelle Greene of LA Law fame) who flies over from New York to win Rachel back to her old, carefree life. Will Rachel come to her senses and realise that Christine is the real love of her life? Don't worry, I don't think you'll lose any sleep over it.

Despite the predictable main storyline, there are a lot of other themes mixed up in here, some of them fairly new territory. The PFLAG obsessed mother is side-splittingly funny and is, I feel, an extended thank you to all the parents out there supporting their gay children with pride and understanding. The scenes dealing with religious beliefs and reconciling them with being gay seem sometimes a little preachy, but they do touch on a subject area that has been lacking serious exploration in both gay/lesbian film and literature.

In the end though, this was a film that played for laughs, and it sure is nice to get a lesbian film that mixes some comedy with its angst. Gay men seem to get all the fun where romantic comedies are concerned. I welcome this film into the lesbian canon with open arms, and hope sincerely that other directors follow suit and prove once and for all that lesbians really can laugh at themselves.

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com