Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the sleeping alone review of films: And Then Came Lola

summary: I have a big problem with this movie.

I've been sitting on a review of And Then Came Lola (2010), described in press materials as a "time-bending, comedic and sexy lesbian romp-loosely inspired by the art house classic Run Lola Run," since it showed at Bloomington's Pride Film Festival last weekend. On the one hand, yay! This film presents a welcome antivenin to the cultural poison of heterosexual action-romances, romantic comedies, action-comedic romances, thriller-romances, romantic get the idea. On the other hand...well, I'll get to that in a minute.

The story is much more than loosely inspired by Run Lola Run, the 1998 German film that has a fire-haired Lola desperate to get 10,000 Deutsche Mark in 20 minutes in order to save her boyfriend's life. The conceit of this film is that when Lola fails, she gets to try again: shot by a police officer and dying on the sidewalk, she yells "stop" and starts over, armed with an awareness of what went wrong the first time. As the story resets itself again and again, the audience is offered backstory: Lola's relationship with Manni, her boyfriend, is not fully secure; there are doubts about whether each feels a genuine love for the other. There is a question, then, over why Lola would risk her life, again and again.

And Then Came Lola works with several of the plot points of its inspiration, not least of which is the main character's ability to go back in time and try again. As in Run Lola Run, there is a punk with a dog; there is a homeless man; there is a beautiful woman named Lola and a camera that cannot look away from her as she runs through the streets of her city. This time, though, Lola is a photographer running through the streets of San Francisco to deliver prints to her girlfriend, Casey, who needs them right away in order to secure a Big Client. Beneath this is a backstory: Lola has issues with commitment, has issues with being dependable and on time, but thinks that Casey might be The One and wants to prove that she can change. As in Run Lola Run, this Lola needs multiple tries to secure the happy ending.

And Then Came Lola is basically a lesbian retelling of Run Lola Run, which isn't in itself a bad thing. In this version, every character is gay (or gay-curious, as in the mixed-sex tourist couple who invite Lola to share their taxi and then put the moves on her), and the film starts from an assumption that same-sex romances are neither perfect nor fundamentally much different from heterosexual romances. And thank god for that--it's about time we started moving beyond the startpoint of needing to justify same-sex attraction and romance.

On the other hand, for a lesbian action-romance, And Then Came Lola feels pretty heteronormative. First of all, the main characters are beautiful in a way that most straight men could probably get behind. Here are Lola and Casey, played by Ashleigh Sumner and Jill Bennett:

I don't challenge the notion that some lesbians look like Lola and Casey (and, in fact, the actors made an appearance at the showing I attended, and they look about the same in real life as they do in the film*). But I do have a problem with a film that aligns femininity with heroism and turns anything else into comedy. In this relationship, it's Lola who's the problem--she's emotionally distant and because of this, as one character explains, sex with her is "like sex with a man." In order to get the girl, Lola has to learn to access her feelings; her big breakthrough comes when she can no longer have sex with Casey without knowing if Casey loves her.

This film is pretty overtly about sex, and its plot is pushed forward through presentation of sexual fantasy. In their fantasy, Lola and Casey get romance, with candles, caresses, and glasses of wine. They are therefore the heroes of the story.

Here are the villains: The punk with a dog is a little butch lesbian who trips Lola up again and again and, it's revealed, has a disturbingly close relationship with her dog. The most evil villain of the movie is a lesbian parking officer, who's presented as a fat, disheveled Latina. She's ugly, we're told, and also mouthy; and her fantasies are therefore presented as hilarious. They're offered up as a joke, as comic relief.

It's not enough, not anymore, to make films with tons of gay characters. What we need is films with tons of gay characters that also strive to complicate our understanding of sexuality, attraction, romance, and what it means to be human. And Then Came Lola would have us believe that the stereotypes are correct, that the more traditionally beautiful you are, the more right you have to your sexuality. That's not only blatantly wrong, it's deeply problematic, especially for a film making the rounds at LGBTQ film festivals.

*Note: I'm making a fairly big leap in assuming that Sumner and / or Bennett are gay, when it's entirely possible that both are straight. If they are, that doesn't negate the fact that there are plenty of lesbians who are approximately as heteronormatively beautiful as Sumner and Bennett are.


Anonymous said...

I found this on the web. The person who wrote this is right on the money.

"I didn't really find it unfair either. Though, I haven't seen the movie yet so I can't be 100% sure. The only thing uninformed about the review is that she doesn't know Jill and Ashleigh are gay. And I don't think someone typically checks into the sexual backgrounds of actors when they write a movie review. Granted, Jill said the audience was informed that all the main actors were gay and if she missed that announcement a quick google search would have cleared it up for her. Which she should have done considering she made their sexuality an issue as a part of her review. But she also made it clear that she wasn't sure and that it wouldn't change her opinion anyway.

I have to say though, it kind of sucks that gay entertainment has to be under this kind of scrutiny as far as the sexuality of the actors and how they appear aesthetically. It's unfortunate we're not at a point where they can review the movie for what is it. Everything has to be politicized."

Jenna McWilliams said...

Thanks for your comment--I agree with your criticism. I could have learned, had I looked hard enough, that both of the stars of this movie are out lesbians. I should have looked hard enough instead of worrying over the possibility of outing actors who haven't outed themselves.

I don't, though, think it's problematic that gay entertainment is under scrutiny for its aesthetic and plot choices. In fact, this is what we do (or should do) with all mainstream movies, and the choice to move past a blind embrace of a "gay" movie is a choice to move past the politics behind the making of the film. A nuanced consideration of a movie only means that the fact of its existence in and of itself is no longer such a miracle.

Anonymous said...

4 of the actresses are gay (Sumner, Bennett, DeBuono and Harlow) and one bi (Jessica Graham) plus many more on the crew for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

btw, seems like DeBuono's character is the villian in the story from what I recall (saw it in Chicago). I also didn't think the latina meter maid was disheveled at all. She was funny and sassy. A hot dom who stole the show imho.

Jenna McWilliams said...

Ok, ok, I was wrong to not identify the actors in the film as gay or bisexual. Mea culpa.

But I stand by my argument, that the more beautiful and traditionally feminine a character is in this film, the more heroic and sexy (and sexualized) she is. Though the actor who plays the parking officer is beautiful and talented, her character is depicted as fat (with too-tight clothes and too many curves) and ugly, with frizzy, out of control hair. Her sexuality is played for laughs, and we're used to this by now: The very notion that a fat, ugly, or "masculine" woman would have a sex drive is treated as a source of ridicule in mainstream, heteronormative film and television.

It doesn't have to be that way, and thank christ we've made it to the point where we can demand more from LGBT films.

Anonymous said...

Actually the meter maid is the heroine who actually helps get Lola where she needs to go doesn't she? She's a savior and a thoughtful one at that. Lola first sees her as the enemy and then in the final segment sees her as a friend.

Also what's wrong with curvy anyway? Her hair is her hair. It didn't appear to be overly bad, just functional the way one would wear one's hair if one was working at her job. I think you are reading your own prejudices into her character.

As I recall she seems to be the only one of the bunch who is stable and that a bad thing?

The fact that Lola sees her as a dom, then dominates her speaks more to people's views of meter maids than it does anything else.

I think you take yourself a bit too seriously with all this analysis.

Jenna McWilliams said...

Well! Of all the posts I've written, this one has garnered me the most attacks on my character. Maybe there's something wrong with me? Maybe I'M the one who's prejudiced, and reading my biases into the film? Maybe I take myself too seriously?

Maybe. Or maybe not. Either way, it's not really relevant to the points I make about the film itself. The LGBTQ community has a long history of seeing legitimate public arguments get turned into personal attacks. We should maybe try harder not to fall into that same trap ourselves.


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