|Directed: Sascha Rice
|Written: Sarah Brown and Sascha Rice
Like that other film festival hit Girl
Play, Mango Kiss had its origins
in local theatre. The original title, "The Bermuda Triangle",
is actually strangely fitting when you watch the film.
Anyway, like all play-to-film adaptations, the biggest hurdle
a filmmaker faces is to make a film, rather than a play on celluloid.
Film is a three-dimensional medium. The writer and the director
need to bust through that proscenium arch and look at the characters
from every direction. They need depth, backgrounds and more realistic
dialogue. Theatre can get away with being artier and more contrived
than film. The script for a film needs to be tighter.
Unfortunately, the first thing a struggling screenwriter adds
to a flailing project seems to be a voiceover narration.
Narration can work, and work well, in certain circumstances.
Film noir has a long and glorious tradition of the hard-boiled
detective taking us through his gut feelings about the situation.
In romantic comedy though, I don't want to be told what I'm supposed
to be seeing. I want to watch it unfold. If narration isn't used
well (as is the case here) the narrative voice feels like an intrusion.
Worst of all, a narrator by definition tells a story, circumventing
the ability of the film to show us things and let the audience
uncover the meaning on our own
Mango Kiss gleefully explores the world of burlesque
humour, but there is a darker undercurrent of jealousy and
misunderstanding that stops the film from drowning in it's own
silliness. However, this more serious side that comes through
at the end of the film forcibly clangs with the over-the-top,
roleplaying fantasies of the middle section and the baby-dykes-meet-San-Francisco
exposition at the beginning.
The overall effect is that the film feels schizophrenic. It has
multiple identities and personalities and embraces each one as
enthusiastically as the last. Some work, some really don't, and
some fail so horribly that I wish they had never been committed
to film. (That boat fantasy? Puh-lease.) It has that feeling of
having been pieced together, taken apart, and put together again,
like no one could really make up their minds about which way the
story should go.
Let's talk about the things that actually were working for me.
The casting was great. Given the stagey nature of the production
and the unbelieveable lines they were made to say, it was the
charisma and likeability of the actors that kept this film afloat
from beginning to end. The two leads, Michelle Wolff and Danièle
Ferraro, acted off each other well. I think the sexual chemistry
between them suffered due to the fantastical dialogue, but the
sex scenes were hot.
I'll admit I pretty much got distracted from everything else
every time Michelle Wolff walked on-screen. Even dressed in wonderful,
early-nineties fashions (gotta love those rolled-up t-shirt sleeves!)
with an early-kd lang haircut to match, she is still gorgeous.
I found it hard to take my eyes off her. While Lou wandered the
streets looking for a lover to get even with Sassifras, I shot
up my hand each time and yelled "pick me! pick me!".
(So endeth the audience participation part of the program!)
Another thing working for this film was the obvious enthusiasm
that all involved had for the project. Sure, it was corny, and
some of the childlike roleplaying scenes would have been downright
embarrassing to perform, but the cast threw themselves into the
roles with gusto. The film has an undeniable energy and you can't
help getting caught up in it at times, even though it brings itself
to a screeching halt every twenty minutes or so with something
inexplicable (back to that multiple-personality syndrome again).
Now for what doesn't work. The S&M costumes looked distinctly
like they had been donated by the local leather store; all shiny
and new and not a single one looking like it had ever seen the
inside of a dungeon. The sex play concentrated mainly on the idea
of spanking and was all very clean and nice. (I was amused when
Sass's mum asked her with all sincerity if she had done something
wrong somewhere in Sass's upbringing to encourage this urge towards
Sass's roleplaying is a side she says repeatedly that she wants
to explore, but she never really seems comfortable in the roles
she takes on. The problem is that the film's depiction of sexual
roleplaying was a lot of things (funny, silly, childlike and weird
mostly) but to me it was never sexy. I don't know if the original
theatre production did, but this film never manages to capture
that uninhibited, no-holds-barred abandon that characterises true
S&M. The director walks a fine line between homage and send-up,
and unfortunately goes for the laugh too often.
Lou is our hero, the kid in the candy store that is the San Francisco
dyke scene. While the choices intrigue her, she's really only
after one thing. She takes on the roleplaying and the non-monogamy
partly because it does genuinely intrigue her but mostly because
she thinks it's the only way she can keep the woman she loves.
From time to time you know that Lou is letting herself go (you
can't lick someone's boots like that without getting a little
bit into it), but her instinct is to reel it in, to not take the
roles they play too far. Finally she insists that she and Sassifras
talk to each other as who they are, not through the roles that
have finally threatened to drive them apart. So after the silliness
of it all we crash-land into reality, and it is a relief I have
to say, to meet the sane personality of this film at last.
I feel like an absolute miser, knowing the rating I must in all
honesty give this film.Some parts are kinda sweet, but this is
not a good movie, not even close. In this particular case though
I'd like to encourage viewers to give the film a chance and judge
for themselves. I think a lot of people are going to like this
film a heck of a lot more than I did. It does have some laughs,
and some sex and some interesting themes. What it doesn't have
is coherence, stability and a deeper exploration of those themes.
A more refined script could have gone a long way towards achieving
Having never lived in San Francisco (or the USA for that matter),
and certainly having never experienced this apparently glorious
time in lesbian life and culture, the attempted "good old
days of San Francisco" nostalgia in the film was lost on
me. I did get the feeling that the director was trying to tell
me something; a lingering shot here, a witticism there. That sent
me into research mode, and I now know more than I did at first
You have to remember though, as a storyteller, that not everyone
in your audience is going to automatically get in the groove just
because you tell us we're in a particular time and place. All
I'm saying is, if the city is a character in this story, give
her more to say. Filmmakers do it with New York all the time.
To the director I say, rent a couple of Woody Allen films and
then get back to me.
Got a comment? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org