it's in the water
Film, 1998, 3.5 stars
Written and Directed: Kelli Herd
Oh God. I saw the cover, read the description, and the first thought that went through my mind was "What the f--- is this?"
I knew nothing about the hype that surrounded this film during its festival release. I just thought "gay white trash?" I mean, the "Charlie's Angels" flicked hair? Those big soap-opera eyes? The southern accents? What else could it be?
Twenty minutes later I was chuckling my way through a funny, sexy film. When Grace tells Alex that they shouldn't kiss because "you're going to like it" I was hooting encouragement at the screen. What a line. This film is like junk food, you know damn well it's bad for you, but you just can't help yourself.
Caricature is such a fine line to walk, but I admire what Kelli Herd achieved here on a below zero budget. The main characters, the town and townsfolk, homosexuality, prejudice against people living with AIDS, pretty much everything gets the once-over. Yet amongst it all is a real sense of humanity and fondness for the subject that is difficult to fake.
Alex (Keri Jo Chapman), a seemingly happily married woman, suffers from a restlessness that she doesn't understand. Her mother is the local social queen (and a true queen she is) who expects her daughter to follow in her primped footsteps. Alex's husband is an oaf, filled with small-town prejudice for things outside his ken.
A face from the past arrives in town in the form of Alex's old high school friend, Grace (Theresa Garrett). Grace reveals her marriage broke up because she is gay. Alex is thrown into an identity crisis - is she gay too? If not, why does she have this overwhelming urge to kiss Grace and rent Personal Best from the video store?
Then there's Mark (Derek Sanders) whose father owns the local paper and insists on running ridiculous stories about people turning gay because of what is in the water. He wants to come out and along comes Thomas (Timothy Vahle), the sexy painter, to convince him there's a better way to live than being closeted and alone.
I've always said that a good story and good characters will make up for a lot. I was seriously having trouble breathing after the video store scene that basically sent up the entire lesbian film genre. It was all so close to the bone, it tickled.
The trick to satire is making it as close to the real experience as possible, while still maintaining a sense of the ridiculous. As lesbians we don't tend to poke fun at ourselves much on film, because we have enough straight filmmakers to do that for us. But there's nothing so liberating as being able to look at yourself and your experiences, both good and bad, and really see the funny side. That's what this film does.
The two main love stories are sweet. The moments of tenderness ring true, even as surrounded by farce as they are. That's what I mean by the film having humanity. There are also moments of tragedy that the film deals with, still tempered with enough humour so as not to weigh the film down, yet not so much as to seem disrespectful.
I keep coming back to this film over and over again, still laughing at the same jokes, still being moved by the same honesty. It might not have the glossy finish of a Hollywood comedy, but what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in heart.
Note: The commentary on the DVD for It's In the Water is a hoot. Kelli Herd, Keri Jo Chapman and Theresa Garrett have a grand old time reminiscing about shooting the film. This is a real treat for fans.