Film Reviews

A Gay Question

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"We had what we called our 'year of weddings,' where one friend after another was getting hitched," Gretchen recalls. "First we attended this legal, socially sanctioned ceremony for a man and a woman. It was this huge, lavishly catered $100,000 affair. Three months later, the couple had split and filed for divorce.

"Shortly after that, we attended a ceremony for two female friends in Austin. It took place under a canopy in someone's back yard. One set of parents had threatened to boycott, but at the last minute, they showed up -- these older, strait-laced people who'd put aside lifelong prejudices to stand by their daughter. In the middle of the event, rain came down like crazy. But that may have been the most beautiful wedding I'd ever been to. These women didn't have a church or a judge to support what they were doing, but that seemed to give the event even more importance. They couldn't afford to take the idea of marriage for granted."

Gretchen, the writing half of the duo, immediately began to mull over a story in which the impending nuptials of two women scandalize the townspeople who thought they knew them. "It was our intention from the start to make a movie not about urban lesbian culture, but two women who'd assimilated into the mainstream," Julia says. "You know, the people who get up every morning at seven, put on their lipstick and pantyhose, maybe even drive their kids to school and go to the office. These women are lesbians, too."

Which leads to a question -- just how "lesbian" are the women in Late Bloomers? The "L" word is mentioned only one time in the film's script, although neither of the two leads refers to herself as one. Late Bloomers was lesbian enough that Gretchen and Julia were compelled to hoodwink by omission and obfuscation the three Dallas schools, including one private religious institution, where they filmed (to this day, they won't reveal those locations), and it was also lesbian enough that a few otherwise enthusiastic Dallas heterosexual investors requested their names not be included among the end credits. Then again, it wasn't lesbian enough for one self-identified lesbian who considered investing in the project but declined because neither filmmaker chooses to describe herself as gay.

The "lesbian enough" issue also came up when the film was being marketed at various film festivals. "[At Sundance], the William Morris Agency came to us and expressed interest in representing the film," Gretchen says. "And there were some film companies, too, who said they were very interested. But ultimately, we encountered the same conflict with each one -- the acquisitions people liked it, but the marketers nixed it. They said, 'How are we going to sell a movie about lesbians in the Bible Belt in New York and Los Angeles?' Without some kind of hip, urban, in-joke lesbian sensibility, they complained that the film wasn't 'erotic' enough."

"The movie industry is one big loop," Gretchen adds. "Since most of the people work in either New York or Los Angeles, the attitudes in those cities have come to be confused with America's attitudes. Well, we love Go Fish, but we didn't want to make just another version of it. We never intended this film to appeal to the New York sophisticate. They have plenty of movies to call their own."

Ultimately, the Dyers ended up handing their film over to Los Angeles-based Strand Releasing, which is known not just for its roster of gay films, but also for handling the national rerelease of The Graduate and Marcello Mastroianni's last film. Strand, too, was concerned about the reaction of the coastal gay cognoscenti, which is one reason the decision was made to premiere Late Bloomers in Texas.

Still, regardless of the reason, there's something apropos about launching Late Bloomers in its home state. As Julia Dyer notes, "This is the story of so many lesbians who live in small towns across America. We've got countless letters and personal comments to make us think that." In that light, complaints about the movie not being sufficiently "sophisticated" matter little to the filmmakers.

In fact, a particularly proud moment for Gretchen was a telephone interview with a gay writer from Los Angeles who told her that he learned something from watching Late Bloomers -- though about heterosexuals instead of gays.

"This fellow lived in an urban world that was very gay-centric. He didn't have to encounter on a daily basis what the women in our film faced from friends and family," she recalls. "So he'd come to think of people who make homophobic comments as monolithically evil. He said, 'This movie was a window for me. I saw they weren't always the villains.' "

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Jimmy Fowler