Written and Directed: Sharon Pollack
Even in 1996 when this film first came out, it looked outdated. The clothes, the hairstyles, the music... the film was like a bad eighties flashback. In fact, I remember thinking "wow, this must be an old movie" when I saw it screened, and was surprised that it was a new film. The reason I'm mentioning this is that if the film looked old in 1996, it looks even worse now. Everything Relative has aged badly. (Shoulder pads, flicked hair, flourescents, wah!)
Famously, this film is often referred to as "The Lesbian Big Chill", because it features a bunch of college friends who reunite at a country house for the weekend. It actually has more in common with the film that also inspired The Big Chill, which is a John Sayles film called Return of the Secaucus 7, but I guess "Return of the Lesbian 7" sounds too much like a bad SciFi film. The woman have gathered to celebrate a Jewish Bris for the son of lesbian couple Katie (Stacey Nelkin) and Victoria (Monica Bell). Harvey Fierstein plays the Rabbi. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the Bris scenes.
Sarah (Carol Schneider), the only straight girl at the party, is depressed about being there because she desperately wants a child of her own, but she and her husband have been unable to conceive. Action girl Luce (Andrea Weber), a stuntwoman with a drinking problem, shows up with a much younger woman who feels totally left out and promptly leaves. This leaves the way open for Gina (Gabriella Messina) to swoop in and claim the girl, since she always had a thing for Luce. All she needs to do is get past the guilt Luce feels for her girlfriend's death twenty years before.
Josie and Maria were a hot and happening couple back in the day, but Maria could not bear to disappoint and humiliate her family by admitting she was gay. They broke up and Maria tried to go straight. Now she has two kids and an ex-husband who won custody of the kids in a bitter court battle. When the two women meet again there's immediate sexual tension. Meanwhile the couple with the child try to convince us that they're perfectly capable of being parents, when one of them is having difficulties even being open about her sexuality.
You can check off the lesbian clichés as they fly by, but somehow it seems appropriate that they be there. Talking about lesbian politics? Check. Singing folk songs by an open fire? Check. Sexual tension from the past? Check. Softball game? Seriously? Stories about coming out? Check. Lesbian sex? Check, check and CHECK.
All the goodies are here, and yes, there's a reason some things become clichés. I can imagine sitting with my friends twenty years from now having similar conversations, and yeah we do bring out the guitar and sing Indigo Girls songs from time to time. Hopefully we'll avoid having sex with each other randomly though. Still, there's something about this movie that is just so familiar it just feels downright comfy, like an old pair of track pants.
Unfortunately, being comfy doesn't make it good. In fact, the acting is pretty bad all round, and the direction is static. That's not to say you can't enjoy the film for what it is, I know lots of women who adore this movie which is why I'm a bit loathe to come down too hard on it. In terms of what makes a film genuinely interesting though, this film just doesn't have it.
There's too many storylines and the film has trouble keeping all the different facets of the movie alive and interesting, and in the end all the traumatic setups are resolved way too easily. The lesbian politics are jammed so far down our throats that it's hard not to choke on it. Some of the scenes are emotional and sweet, and some of the sex is hot, but too often the sweet veers over into cloying and the sex feels like it is playing to the cheap seats.
Character-wise, the most interesting story was Josie and Maria. This was the story that held the most emotional punch, and their moonlight trysts were actually all the better for the details we couldn't see. Erotic and sensual wins out over turbo-charged sexuality any day of the week.
Don't expect too much and you might get a kick out of the unabashed lesbianism of this movie. That's the only way I can think of to describe it. It deals with issues lesbians care about, and if you agree with all the points the characters make you'll probably be raising a fist crying "right on, sister!" It's diverting, but a bit of a mixed bag of the good and the annoying.