Female Trouble

Two offbeat films chronicle three offbeat young women's struggles

Later, when Mary locks herself in the library and spends all night obsessively filing books away to learn the Dewey decimal system, she doesn't suddenly become a goody two-shoes drudge. She turns the process into an elaborate dance routine, shimmying across floors and tabletops and up and down ladders and shelves; she turns work into a party.

Party Girl isn't a masterwork of social observation. It's just a solid comedy that realizes it's okay to entertain viewers without instructing them, too. It's a party of a movie that doesn't leave you feeling hung over.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is an awfully long title for such a short, simple movie.

Fans of John Duigan's 1990 film Flirting will probably recognize the plot: two wise-beyond-their-years teenagers, one black and one white, fall into a taboo-breaking romance that sets their peers and parental figures on edge and pushes them to the brink of public scorn.

Things are even more complicated in this movie because the two lovebirds are young women. One is Randy Dean (Laurel Holloman), a slender, redheaded white girl who lives in a ramshackle house with an extended family of older lesbians. The other is Evie Roy (Nicole Parker), a gorgeous African-American from a well-to-do home who's one of the most popular kids in school.

Both girls are smart as whips, which is why they're instantly attracted to each other. But while Randy is certain she's a lesbian, Evie knows only that she's drawn to Randy. Evie has a mother who's concerned with appearances, a boyfriend who doesn't understand why Evie doesn't like getting physical and a future that presumably includes college, travel, marriage and buppiehood. Randy is a wrench tossed into the well-oiled machine of her existence. Evie might be fond of poetry, but she doesn't have a true poet's ability to toss propriety aside and embrace reckless, random experience.

But refreshingly, although she rides a bike, has short hair, talks tough and knows her way around a bed, Randy isn't a cartoon life force. She's an introverted, troubled girl who needs Evie to help her put her life into context, to help her navigate through the thicket of her own confused feelings. These girls are obviously meant for each other. If only the world around them felt the same way.

Love conquers all, of course, though the lessons learned by the girls are bittersweet. Both Evie's mother, a brilliant black academic, and Randy's surrogate family, a working-class gaggle of proud white lesbians, discover they aren't nearly as tolerant as they claim to be. But although it has points to make, the picture doesn't hammer them home. First-time writer/director Maria Maggenti has come up with a beguilingly understated movie that manages to capture both the heat and weird awkwardness of first love.

As is to be expected from any first film, there are certain elements that don't quite work. One is the verbal interplay among the various women in Randy's household; it often seems earthy-bitchy in a calculated, rather stage-bound way. Another is Randy's misguided affair with an older, well-off, sexually insatiable woman named Wendy who sometimes comes to her rescue with infusions of affection, advice and cash. The overbearingly wacky performer who plays her, Maggie Moore, seems to be acting in a different movie, and the subplot itself is amazingly dull.

The picture's chief virtue is its calm, reflective pacing, which allows us to bask in every moment the girls spend together and to savor the nuances of two exceptionally fine lead performances. Neither Holloman nor Parker ever makes a false move. Thanks to their confidence, Two Girls in Love doesn't have the rushed, overhyped, anecdotal quality that sinks most teen romances. Maggenti actually lets us hang around with her two young lovers for long moments in which they aren't doing or saying much of anything.

That might amount to the filmmaker's greatest inspiration: when you think back on your first love, it often isn't the torrid notes you remember, or the midnight gropings. It's the absolute stillness of desire, the ability of you and your lover to will yourselves into a state of free-floating sensuality in which nothing matters but the person sitting beside you. It's a serenity borne of complete (if deluded) confidence -- the conviction that this fantastic feeling of total cosmic rightness will never grow old, never die.

Party Girl.
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer. With Parker Posey and Omar Townsend.
Rated R.
98 minutes.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love.
Directed by Maria Maggenti. With Laurel Holloman and Nicole Parker.
Rated R.
95 minutes.

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