Jamie and Jessie are roommates, queer, and facing two difficult situations - Jessie is clearly in love with Jamie, and Jamie is leaving for New York to pursue her acting career in two weeks. What follows is a film about Jessie attempting to discover who she is as a person without the crutch of her long-time crush to hold her up. While she's being advised by her nearest and dearest to either admit to Jamie how she feels or move on, she displays classic love/hate behaviour - hanging off Jamie's every word and yet painfully aware that the way she feels isn't healthy.
Jessie at times wants to both love Jamie and to be her - Jamie has a sexy lover, gets all the parts Jessie wants, seems basically more talented and more confident, plus she's doing the ultimate brave thing, she's packing up and getting out. In a misplaced effort to incite jealousy, Jessie runs around on a series of blind dates (and I mean a series - when did she organise and have all these dates? There just doesn't seem to be enough days in the timeline!) before she finally meets someone randomly, as all the best love stories begin, and proceeds to almost screw up what could be the real deal through her obsession with Jamie.
So far so good. It's all sweet, interesting, authentic... and then... there's the songs. At a few pivotal points in the film the cast burst into what can only be considered really bad musical numbers. Like really bad. I wanted to like them, but they truly were cringeworthy, to the point where I think the only way to survive them is with a remote control in hand so you can fast forward whenever you hear strains of eighties-like power chords coming through your speakers. What made Jamie's number worse was the fact that she's supposed to be broadway-level talented, but it's hard to suspend your disbelief on that when she can't sing. It's not ironic or cute, it's just difficult to wrap your head around.
No doubt the leads have chemistry, and Jessica London-Shields was adorable as Jessie, but despite Jacqui Jackson's best efforts, Jamie was unfortunately pretty unlikeable from start to finish. For me the film's best moments came as asides - the lovely big sister-little sister relationship between Jessie and her co-worker Dawn, and the sweet, romantic "walking a bike home in the rain" moments between Jessie and her new-found romantic interest Elizabeth. Touches of brilliance at the sides, but let down in the middle by that odd decision to go with the musical twist.
Director Wendy-Jo Carlton is a talented filmmaker - her work on Hannah Free before this was subtle, interesting and really touching - but this one doesn't gel. However, this is really obviously a labour of love and it shows. For a small budget film the production values are excellent. I was particularly impressed by the "Jessie and Elizabeth in the rain" scenes and how well they were captured, it would not have been an easy shoot in the dark. The scenes that need to be still are still, there's a real sense of place in the Chicago setting, the sex scenes weren't shy, and there is movement in the film that stops this from being a talking heads picture, which it was in danger of being because there's a lot of dialogue.
The people in this movie also look real. No super-skinny models and actresses, no fake smiles or over acting. There's an authenticity here that's easy to like. It's a queer film wearing its queerness proudly. I think that might be why the musical numbers bother me so much - just when you get into the flow of the story they interrupt and remind you of everything that's odd about the movie. Authenticity mixed with fake. It's a bit frustrating.
High concept is OK, a semi-musical about some aspiring actors who are trying to decide who they are and who they love isn't at all bad on paper, but high-concept also requires a great deal of dexterity which just isn't present here. I think we're so hungry for films in the romantic comedy genre that many people will watch this and go "what's she talking about? It's not that bad". To this I say each to their own, maybe I just really disliked the musical numbers. Genre-busting is one thing, but you need to be pretty damn sure of yourself. Either be a musical or not, don't go at it halfway. I just think this one gets confused about what it wants to be, and in the end that makes it not quite work for me.
Judge for yourself - if you are the US you can watch it here for free.
BTW - Roger Ebert disagrees with me. See his review here. There aren't too many lesbian films that he reviewed, so it's a good read.
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