Christina Ricci gets all tarted up and says nasty things about gay men in The Opposite of Sex, a self-consciously scabrous comedy from Don Roos, the guy who wrote Single White Female, Boys on the Side, and the ill-advised Diabolique remake.
So what’s the guy who wrote Boys on the Side, a movie that did backflips taking the teeth out of the Thelma & Louise formula, doing as the auteur of what looks like a bitter and twisted comedy of manners about the dark side of love and sex in the 1990s? That’s a trick question — The Opposite of Sex only appears to be bitter and twisted. By the time it plays itself out, collapsing in a tearful heap, it’s done everything it can except attach a little disclaimer to the credits assuring us that no gay men or lonely women were harmed in the making of the film.*
To be fair, I should note that nothing raises my hackles faster than a movie that proclaims itself to be clever and expects us to be enthralled. From square one, The Opposite of Sex is absolutely infatuated with itself, having 16-year-old DeDee Truitt (Ricci) comment on everything that happens in voiceover. In insufferably reflexive fashion, she comments not only on the events of the film, but on the film itself. When she puts a gun in her bag, she tells us it’s foreshadowing. When an abrupt turn of events leads us to believe she may be dead, she berates us for believing that a film’s narrator could possibly die during the course of the picture (guess she never saw Sunset Boulevard). By the time she delivers one of the film’s best lines, an astute crack about homophobes in the movie audience, it was far too late for me. That voiceover wore out its welcome in the film’s first five minutes.
It’s too bad, because the gimmick casts a shadow across what may otherwise be a reasonably diverting little independent film. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with Ricci’s performance — she does a terrific job with what she’s given, delivering on the subversive promise of her role in the underrated Addams Family Values and proving that her turn in last year’s The Ice Storm was no fluke. She sounds as bitter and venomous as her character is supposed to be. The problem is that the part is so overwritten that you’re less aware of the presence of a character and more aware of the presence of a screenwriter’s aggressive experiments with form.
In the course of the picture, DeDee flees her Louisiana home for Indiana, where she efficiently seduces her half-brother Bill’s (an effective Martin Donovan) gay lover Matt (a charming Ivan Sergei). Matt’s other boyfriend, Jason (overplayed by Johnny Galecki), arrives on the scene after Matt’s fled for California with DeDee. Meanwhile, Bill’s best friend Lucia (kudos for Lisa Kudrow, turning in an almost unrecognizable performance) pines for him, to no avail. Complications ensue, and Lyle Lovett has a peripheral role as a sheriff trying to sort everything out.
Like Boys on the Side, The Opposite of Sex is two movies in one. The screwballish comedy of the first two-thirds of the picture gives way to some strained earnestness in the final section as DeDee asks herself whether all the benefits of getting together for love and sex are worth the bother. For DeDee, the answer still seems to be no, although it’s clear at every moment that the movie wants to answer yes, yes, yes.
In the end, The Opposite of Sex is a reasonably well-made, good-natured romp, with a refreshingly unstereotypical gay character at the center of the action and some pointed social commentary. It also tries hard to be heartwarming, which clashes sharply with the cynical front it puts up in the opening scenes. Our narrator, DeDee, assured us at the outset that her character won’t grow or learn lessons over the course of the film, and she lives up to that promise. But when the character of your film is going to change so drastically from first reel to last, isn’t it a mistake to insist on making such a glib, immobile character the focal point?
* The Opposite of Sex is, however, the first film I’ve seen to include a disclaimer to the effect that “No actors under the age of 17 performed in any scenes depicting explicit sexual conduct.” Such a claim is obviously in response to the recent strengthening of U.S. “child pornography” laws to include the use of a minor in any scene depicting sexual conduct. The threat is real — last year, police invoking an Oklahoma state law got video rental records from Blockbuster and actually went knocking on the doors of private citizens to confiscate VHS copies of The Tin Drum.
Written and Directed by Don Roos
Edited by David Codron
Cinematography by Hubert Taczanowski
Music by Mason Daring
Starring Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, and Lisa Kudrow
Theatrical aspect ratio: 1.85:1