Where the Boys Aren't

"Don't you want to deal with problems when they happen?" Rachel demands. She's just moved in with someone and, being level-headed, isn't quite prepared for the answer: "No, I'm in therapy." The couple fight, break up and see other people before getting back together, with Rachel seeking her soul mate out in their favorite watering hole to declare, "I'm in love with you." What she hears in reply is, "I'm in love with me, too. And I don't know if I can love two people at the same time." Somehow, they live happily ever after.

Woody Allen territory? Sort of. Not many movies other than his delight in such neuroticism. But even more rare are "lesbian movies" such as this; Bar Girls is great fun. Rachel's lover is Loretta, an affably insecure nut. Loretta's stumblings for her one true relationship are at the heart of this romantic comedy. Bar Girls is so good-humoredly well-observed that it has ample crossover appeal: rather than preach about sexual politics, it has Rachel defend her pronouncement that she loves Loretta enough "to fill the hole in the ozone layer" by insisting, "It's not bleak -- it's environmentally conscious."

Much of the credit goes to Lauran Hoffman's witty screenplay. "I just like to lie on my bed with my friends," Loretta confides when bringing Rachel home. "It's more intimate." Much to Rachel's disappointment, this is not an attempt at seduction. "I have to be in love to do it," Loretta explains -- so she rapidly does exactly that, falling in love as if it were a task along the lines of tying one's shoes. Even better, one night in bed, Rachel discovers that she doesn't love Loretta all the time; Loretta is wounded, quickly recovers, says she's relieved because she feels the same way, which of course wounds Rachel, and the scene ends as they turn away from each other.

Hoffman similarly gives the "agenda" a light, ironic touch. Not only has Rachel recently come "out," she also is recently divorced -- so when she moves in with Loretta, she wonders aloud as they're rearranging the bedroom, "Do you think I'm gay?" Loretta writes for a cartoon show; her subversive goal is to create a menstruating superhero. Her co-writer, the only male in the movie, supports her. "But," he says, "PMS is out of the question -- she could destroy the city." And Loretta's ditzy friend Veronica is so flattered when a waitress flirts with her that she reassesses her sexuality. "I'm sorry," Veronica says, "I just feel so euphoric. Will you just get me that lesbian!" When Veronica tells Loretta that she suddenly feels "so woman-centered," Loretta remarks, "Well, that's healthy -- being that you're a woman and all."

Under Marita Giovanni's nimble direction, Nancy Allison Wolfe makes Loretta a bright, attractive mess, and Liza D'Agostino creates a Rachel who's earthy and winsome. They play off each other so well that they -- along with Justine Slater as Veronica, the "convert" who finds lesbianism to be just hunky-dory -- hide the movie's flaws for a long while. Foremost among these flaws are stock, stilted secondary characters. And how the cast plays musical lovers strains credulity. But in this fluttering valentine of a movie, in which one couple announces, "We've decided to see other people for a few months until we get married," you can only shake your head and smile.

Bar Girls.
Directed by Marita Giovanni. With Nancy Allison Wolfe and Liza D'Agostino.
Rated R.
95 minutes.


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