Outfest wraps up today, but reviews of the film will continue to come throughout this week! For now, here are three capsule reviews of various films from the fest that I’ve seen.
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?
Director Anna Margarita Albelo crafts a semi-autobiographical tale, playing herself as main character Anna, a lesbian film director flailing in a mid-life crisis. She has no job, no money, no girlfriend, and lives in her best friend’s garage. She decides to kill both her artistic and romantic birds with one stone by conceiving of a film for her young crush Katia (Janna Gavankar) to star in. It’s an all-girl semi-adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, called, well, you know.
Albelo herself may be the biggest obstacle here. She’s a capable director, but not quite acceptable as an actress, much less one who has to lead the film. She’s overwhelmingly stiff, especially in delivering her narration (which, as is too often the case with narration, is mostly present as a lazy expositional shortcut, flaunting the tired-but-true “show, don’t tell” rule). Her performance especially sticks out because she’s surrounded by much more vibrant actors, especially Guinevere Turner as Anna’s best friend Penelope. Turner just won the fest’s Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, and it was well-deserved. Penelope is a vivacious presence, always tough but compassionate, and I get the feeling that Turner would have killed it if she’d been given the lead.
Anyone who’s ever worked on a tiny film shoot will recognize how much true humor the movie wrings out of the making of the film-within-the-film. Vagina Wolf* is a fun romp, even if you can envision how it could have been better as you’re watching it.
*The Penny Arcade guys’ greatest nightmare.
A po-mo experimental adaptational queercore sort-of-anthology memoir-ish… thing, far and away one of the most unusual entries at the fest. If nothing else, it made me really want to read the 2000 book by Michelle Tea on which it is based. The novel is composed of 21 chapters, each describing a different episode during one year in Tea’s life in San Francisco’s Mission District, during which she experimented with psychedelic substances and kinky sex. In this film, each of those chapters becomes a short, each one made by a different director.
The myriad creative minds mean that the quality of each vignette varies, often quite drastically. The movie has essentially turned one woman’s experience into a whole patchwork of experiences, as each short has a different actress (or actor) as Michelle. There’s a thin connective tissue between the different episodes (romantic relationships carry over), but the movie feels very loose. It’s both a strength and a weakness. It means that if you don’t like one director’s style, then a new one is just around the corner, but it also means that the whole piece never coheres into something meaningful.
The best segments are the more straightforward ones, especially one in which Michelle accompanies her girlfried to her hostile Southern hometown. This might not be what one wants to hear about an experimental film. Some of the sections are embarrassingly low rent, and others are strange in a way that’s almost unclassifiable as “good” or “bad” (which is probably more what one wants to hear about an experimental film). One short, for instance, is just a clip from the movie Gia dubbed over with new dialogue. Valencia is a mixed bag, but there are fits of goodness in it.
Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro
This movie made me feel like a jerk for hating it, but I hated it. It’s an account of famous songwriter Desmond Child and his partner Curtis’s journey to becoming parents. There is, in concept, nothing wrong with this. But the movie feels like a tremendous vanity project, made in tribute to this one family, and meaning little to anyone who isn’t in Child’s circle of celebrity friends. Supporting this is the fact that the film devotes copious detail to things that have nothing to do with the conception of the eponymous Roman and Nyro.
It says nothing new about gay awakenings, surrogate pregnancy, or parenthood. It’s almost completely drama-free, a sugared-over account that takes pains to say absolutely nothing that isn’t safe pap. The movie also repeatedly references different meetings of people as “miraculous” or “destined” (Part of its weird New Age undercurrent. Deepak Chopra makes an appearance, because he of course is totally relevant to the subject of gay people making babies), when said meetings seem in fact pretty mundane. It reeks of self-importance. One scene features an absurdly ornate “blessing ceremony” for Roman and Nyro, which embelmizes the main couple’s witless appropriation of Eastern spirituality. Both self-indulgent and completely un-self-aware, Two believes its about extraordinary circumstances, when it’s actually just about people who think their privileged good fortune makes their circumstances extraordinary.