it's in the water

1998

Written and Directed by: Kelli Herd

Oh God, I tried not to like this, I really did. I saw the cover, read the description, and the first thought that went through my mind was "What the f--- is this?"

My flatmate had been sent a copy by a friend on the Internet, and we knew nothing about the hype that had surrounded this film during its festival release. We just thought "gay white trash?" I mean, the "Charlie's Angels" flicked hair? The eighties, badly-fitting clothes? Those big soap-opera eyes, the southern accents? What else could it be?

Twenty minutes later I'm chuckling and giggling my way through one of the funniest gay films I've ever seen. It's also pretty sexy. When Grace tells Alex that they shouldn't kiss because "you're going to like it" I was hooked. What a line. By the time Alex climbs on top of Grace on the bed and kisses her hard claiming "I'm not that nervous" I was shouting encouragement at the screen (and believe me I don't talk to my TV that often). This film is like junk food, you know damn well it's bad for you, but you just can't help yourself. Dammit.

Caricature and satire is such a fine line to walk, but I really admire what Kelli Herd has achieved here. The main characters, the town and townsfolk, homosexuality, prejudice against people living with AIDS, pretty much everything gets the once-over. Yet in amongst it all is a real sense of humanity and fondness for the subject that is difficult to fake.

Alex (Keri Jo Chapman), a seemingly happily married woman, is suffering from a restlessness that she doesn't really understand. Her mother is the local social queen (and almost a queen in the drag sense of the word) who expects her daughter to follow in her primped footsteps. Alex's husband is an oafish kind of guy filled with prejudice for things outside his ken.

At the height of Alex's confusion a face from the past arrives in town in the form of Alex's old high school friend, Grace (Theresa Garrett). Grace reveals that her marriage broke up because she is gay. At that revelation Alex is thrown into an identity crisis - is she gay? If not, why does she have this overwhelming urge to kiss Grace and rent Personal Best from the video store?

Then there's Mark (Derek Sanders) whose father owns the local newspaper and insists on running ridiculous stories about people turning gay because of what is in the water. How can he come out and stop attending his ridiculous "Homo-No-Mo" meetings? Along comes Thomas (Timothy Vahle), the sexy painter, to convince him there's a better way to live than being closeted and alone.

I've always said that a good story and good characters will make up for a lot. After a while you don't even seem to notice anymore that the acting is pretty wooden. I was seriously having trouble breathing after the video store scene that basically sent up the entire lesbian film genre. I just couldn't stop laughing. And yet, how many times while I was in the process of coming out did I scour the video store shelves looking for something, anything, to watch that I could relate to? It was all so close to the bone, it tickled.

The real trick to satire is making it as close to the real experience as possible, while still maintaining a sense of the ridiculous. As gay people we don't tend to poke fun at ourselves much on film, I guess because we have enough straight filmmakers to do that for us. To be honest though, I understand that. But there's nothing so liberating than being able to look inside yourself and your experiences, both good and bad, and really see the funny side to queer life. That's what this film does.

The two main love stories are actually quite sweet. The moments of tenderness that we see ring pretty true, even as surrounded by farce as they are. That's what I mean by the film having humanity. There are also moments of tragedy that the film deals with, still tempered with enough humour so as not to weigh the film down, yet not so much as to seem disrespectful.

I keep coming back to this film over and over again, still laughing at the same jokes, still being moved by the same honesty. It might not have the glossy finish of a Hollywood comedy, but what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in heart.

Note: The commentary on the DVD for It's In the Water is a hoot. Kelli Herd, Keri Jo Chapman and Theresa Garrett have a grand old time reminiscing about shooting the film. This is a real treat for fans of this film.

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