a family affair
Written and Directed: Helen Lesnick
Halfway through a screening of A Family Affair it was palpable that the audience was polarised right down the middle. There were those who were loving the film and those who were clearly waiting for the clock to run down so they could get the hell out of there. Some people I spoke to said they thought the characters had no chemistry, or that they simply just didn't look gay. (I'm sure out lesbian writer/director/star Helen Lesnick would be interested to know that some audiences didn't buy her as a dyke!)
I fell into the former category, a group I suspect was made up of more than one person who got a kick out of the hilarious It's In The Water. I put these films into the same genre - films meant to take a swift kick at people who take being gay too seriously, while still providing an appealing love story and a conclusion that was satisfactorily happy.
Rachel Rosen, a cynical, New York, jewish dyke, moves to California to live near her parents and to escape the destructive clutches of an ex-lover. Rachel has the opposite problem of most gay people - her mother is so proud of her daughter that she's become a miltant member of PFLAG. Her life revolves around her daughter's sexuality, while Rachel just wants to be left alone to write and wallow in self pity.
After some disastrous dates, Rachel finally agrees to a blind date set up by, of all people, her interfering mother. Then the impossible happens - she meets Christine, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Californian poster child - and falls in love.
Suddenly, faced with the possibility of being happy for the first time in her life, Rachel panics and falls back into the arms of her scheming ex-lover Reggie (an appearance by an old favourite, Michelle Greene of LA Law) who flies over from New York to win Rachel back to her old, carefree life. Will Rachel come to her senses and realise that Christine is the real love of her life? Don't worry, I don't think you'll lose any sleep over it.
Despite the predictable main storyline, there are a lot of other themes mixed up in here, some of them fairly new territory. The PFLAG obsessed mother is funny and treated with the love she deserves. The scenes dealing with religious beliefs and reconciling them with being gay touch on a subject that has been lacking serious exploration in both gay/lesbian film and literature.
Ultimately this was a film that played for laughs, and it sure is nice to get a lesbian film that mixes some comedy with its angst. Gay men seem to get all the fun where romantic comedies are concerned. I can't in all good conscience give it a higher rating than this because I do recognise the structural and production flaws that will turn people off, but I welcome this film into the lesbian canon with open arms, and hope sincerely that other directors follow suit and prove once and for all that lesbians really can laugh at themselves.