Girls & Boys Together

Better Than Chocolate: as in “Your love is…,” as in the Quik-secreting Sarah McLachlan ballad. The namesake film is an amiable, scatterbrained tale that emits enough patchouli-tinged sisterly warmth to aromatize several Lilith Fairs, but all the sapphic good vibrations may induce nausea even in attendees familiar with such sticky, syrupy coming-out herstories.

Nineteen-year-old Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) has just dropped out of college and fallen into love with portrait artist Kim (Christina Cox) when Mom, freshly dumped by her second husband, announces she’s moving into her daughter’s flat with Maggie’s doofus brother in tow. Not just clueless about her little girl’s sexuality, Mom (Wendy Crewson) also seems unclear on what year it is, and the movie’s level of
subtlety can be gauged by its illustration of her bondage in housewifedom: though the setting is present-day Vancouver, she sports sweater sets, pearls, and a coiffure petrified halfway between Donna Reed and a B-52. Mom, a
puritanical chocoholic, cluelessly bonds with male-to-female transgendered lesbian Judy (Peter Outerbridge), who’s smitten with Frances (Ann-Marie MacDonald), Maggie’s high-strung boss at Ten Percent Books (Mom: “So you’re working at a discount bookstore?”). Meanwhile, Maggie tries mustering the gumption to tell her mother about her relationship with Kim (we know the couple’s love is true, since another gauzy acoustic
ditty pops up on the soundtrack every time the girls come near each other).

These voyages of self-discovery wouldn’t be complete without a few narrative landmines contrived for maximum melodrama. Judy gets bashed at a dyke bar (with a handbag, no less) for, um, using the wrong bathroom (no justice, no peace!) while skinheads firebomb the bookstore, with a naked Maggie inside. Love and understanding is readily found among the ruins—there’s nothing like a well-timed disaster to smooth over any rough edges, especially in a movie that can only open its eyes enough to see the good in everything.

Speaking of eyes wide shut, the erotic encounters in Head On are soaked with the strip-club reds and blues that permeate the Kubrick film (and your average Showtime late movie), and just like Tom, our hero cruises at night but doesn’t get laid. Head On‘s Ari is gay and Greek in Australia, and though a well-meaning friend tells him, “Fuck politics. Let’s dance,” the surly heartthrob sports a chip on his well-muscled shoulder to rival the most dangerous Backstreet Boy, or even the young Donnie Wahl berg. The movie trails Ari for 24 restless hours as he spars with his old-world parents, jaws with his lethargic friends, and surfs the local bars and dance clubs, while spastic handheld cameras, smeary slo-mo interludes, and incessant jump-cutting try to foist a sense of urgency on the proceedings. Ari seems to be heading toward a happy ending, but the film’s close is grim and ambivalent, a choice that would be commendable if the movie had not so stubbornly held the same dour tone for two hours already, and if Ari weren’t as boring as he is bored.

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