Nobody knows why gay love stories have gone from being taboo to trendy, but the film industry is belatedly ready to exploit the new homophilia with Trick and Better Than Chocolate, a Canadian import by director Anne Wheeler. Gay love stories have momentarily joined the list of bankable film premises, along with Julia Roberts and dog-poop gags. Formerly alternative screenwriters and directors, probably concerned that the 15-minute stopwatch is ticking, are rushing in with product. So far, the results are mostly forgettable.
Better Than Chocolate is a frothy, smoochy tale about two angelic, college-age lesbians with common interests (sex, erotic painting, coffee) who meet and instantly fall in love, or the high-school equivalent, in a coffee shop. Maggie (the angelic Karyn Dwyer) is a coed who's rethinking her future, Kim (Christina Cox) is a street painter who somehow has plenty of money for going out on the weekend. Complications ensue, but not serious ones, when Maggie's mom (Wendy Crewson) and high school-age brother move in with them and their friends undergo various personal crises.
The teenage romance and chick flick can be annoying genres to start with. They're not any less annoying when conjoined. Like so many alternative efforts to go mainstream (or mainstream attempts to be alternative), Better Than Chocolate mostly misses --- the lovers' problems are too lifelike for the movie to be escapist, but the characters are too stereotypical to be real. At best, director Anne Wheeler has some fun with young love and the humorous side of lesbian/gay culture, but she fails to make that culture seem anything other than silly. (Maybe it just is silly --- I mean, how many straight people do you know who think dildoes are endlessly hilarious sight gags?)
The movie is absolutely dumb when it gets serious or tries to make a statement, e.g. an implausible subplot about a censorship war between Canadian customs and the lesbian bookstore where Maggie works. And bringing in the inevitable queer-hating skinheads at the climax of the movie is cliched, predictable hate mongering. But at least the skinheads have a purpose in furthering the plot --- and at least there is a plot.
The younger actors are adequate, but the memorable performances are also the more demanding roles --- Peter Outerbridge as a transsexual (almost) with a sensitive side, and Crewson as Maggie's frantic mom. Both performances are great and they aren't the only good elements of this movie, but the movie is still fluff and all the good elements are ultimately wasted.
Better Than Chocolate is probably not any worse than Runaway Bride, but what does that mean? It's also no worse than the average teen romance flick, but few people would watch a teenage love story this saccharine if the two leads were straight. Once the novelty wears off and Hollywood decides the gay thing isn't happening anymore, I wonder if anyone will be watching lesbian teenage love stories, either.
Worse than vanilla.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th August 1999
Distributed by: Trimark Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 13
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: Anne Wheeler
Producer: Sharon McGowan
Screenwriter: Peggy Thompson
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