an unexpected love
Written and Directed: Lee Rose
Despite their weepie and over-acted reputation, TV movies have the capacity to reach such a huge audience, so positive approaches to lesbian sexuality in TV movies can only be considered a good thing. With some OK performances by some reasonably well-known faces, this is a reasonable example of the medium and superior to many cinematic efforts I've seen dealing with the same subject.
Kate (Leslie Hope), a housewife and mother of two, has this sense that she needs something more from life than her rapidly cooling marriage. Before the opening credits have finished rolling she has asked for a separation from her husband Jack. They have two children, both of whom seem completely well adjusted and representative of middle-America, despite the fact that teenaged daughter Sam (Allison Pill) has purple streaks and sports a nose ring.
Feeling useless, Kate stumbles into Hays realty and, perhaps out of pity, perhaps out of latent attraction, is offered a job as a receptionist by the owner McNally "Mac" Hays (Wendy Crewson - Better than Chocolate). On her first day on the job she discovers that Mac is an out lesbian and is surprised but not thrown by the fact. Over the months that follow, the two begin to form a friendship that gradually forms into a deeper attachment.
With the love affair established (albeit on rocky foundations), thus begins Kate's long saga of coming out. Reaction to the news from family and friends is mixed, but the balance tilts firmly towards the negative. "Don't let the purple hair and nose ring fool you mom, I'm upset!" gets my vote as the film's worst clanger. So that's what the nose ring was for, to remind us that people aren't what they appear. Subtle. Many of these scenes take the form of people standing on Kate's doorstep, delivering their messages and then leaving, giving me the impression that Kate should simply stop answering her doorbell.
Mac has her own issues. Despite being outwardly confident and successful, she's emotionally fractured due to her lover of ten years dying about 3 years earlier. She's done the whole painful coming out thing once with the woman she thought she would be with forever, so doesn't have the patience or fortitude at first to support Kate's angst-filled process.
Mac is also now supporting her ex's grieving brother Brad who is hopeless at selling real estate - a cameo by Brent Spiner who, despite having less than ten lines in the entire movie, delivers them admirably. It is he who ultimately opens up long enough to convince Mac that she needs to move on and take some chances.
All's well that ends well though; Sam and Jack come around, they persuade Kate's mother to have some tolerance, and Mac gets over her issues and jumps in head first to this new opportunity for romance. It's all very heartwarming (leaning towards sickly), and blessedly so because frankly I'm a bit strung out on lesbian stories that end tragically and I needed a bit of hope, even the overwrought, faux kind.
It is refreshing to see that nowadays lesbians in TV movie-land are indeed sexual beings. Lots of kisses, physicality of the non-fingertip variety, and even a low key (strictly above the shoulders) sex scene are offered up here for our enjoyment.
Unexpected Love doesn't live up to its title in at least one significant way - I had a bit of tough time believing these women were in love, mainly because the film skipped over those essential scenes that build a relationship before it proceeded to try and tear them down. You have to give the story some happiness, make us care for these characters, before you start to test them.
That being said, I thought Wendy Crewson in particular gives Mac's character a sexual edge so often lacking in these TV affairs, and while I think Kate gets through her own inner turmoil just a tad too quickly, she does genuinely appear attracted enough to Mac to go through this torture of coming out that she puts herself through.
What puzzled me was why Kate was automatically branded a lesbian after one sexual attraction to one woman, after years of supposedly fulfilling heterosexuality. Once again, while film and television has come leaps and bounds in terms of lesbianism, bisexuality remains the unconquered taboo. Why couldn't Kate be attracted to both men and women? Adding some confronting sexual politics to the mix might have pushed this film to a point where its message could be successful. Big steps in some areas, small steps in others.
Lesbian writer/director Lee Rose is fast becoming the guru of the TV movie lesbian, having already explored teenage lesbianism in the excellent The Truth About Jane and gotten Elle McPherson and Kate Capshaw into bed in A Girl Thing. Her efforts here are not as successful as these previous films, and script had a lot to do with that. Still, the actors did OK with what they were given, and you could do a lot worse than to stick with this if you stumble across it on TV.