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 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 confused. It has multiple identities and personalities and embraces each one as enthusiastically as the last. Some work, some 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.
Upsides? The casting was great. Given the stagey nature of the production and the lines they were made to say, it was the charisma and likeability of the actors that kept this film afloat. The two leads, Michelle Wolff and Danièle Ferraro, worked 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 every time Michelle Wolff walked on-screen. Even dressed in wonderful, early-nineties fashions with an early-kd lang haircut to match, she is still gorgeous. 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, but the cast threw themselves into the roles with gusto. It all has an undeniable energy and you can't help getting caught up in it, even though it brings itself to a screeching halt every twenty minutes or so with something inexplicable.
Now for what doesn't work. The S&M costumes looked 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.
Sass's roleplaying is a side she says that she wants to explore, but she never seems comfortable in the roles she takes on. The problem is that the film's depiction of sexual roleplaying was a lot of things, 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.
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 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 sweet, but this is not a good movie. In this particular case though, I'd 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 that.