Published June 1, 1998
The Opposite of Sex, written and directed by Don Roos, is a young man’s film with all the virtues that natural wit and talent can supply in the absence of maturity, depth and judgment. These last named are qualities which often come to people with time, so we may hope for splendid things in the future, but TOOS is a exercise in tedium punctuated by laughter, if that does not sound like too cryptic a judgment. The jokes, that is, are good, even if the dramatic context is a bore and a half owing to the fact that the film has only one voice, Mr Roos’s, which is not engaging enough to carry a whole film.
Another problem for me was that I found the film’s voiceover narrator, who does most of Mr Roos’s ventriloquism for him, a deeply unattractive character. I applaud the fact that the author has set for himself this exacting test, to make an unpleasant, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, sexually promiscuous 16 year old thief sympathetic to us; but I cannot forbear to report that, for this viewer at any rate, he has failed it. Christina Ricci, the moon-faced little girl from The Addams Family etc, now a moon-faced young woman, plays DeeDee Truitt who, made preganant by her simian boyfriend, Randy (William Scott Lee) decides to do a flit to seek out a half brother, Bill (Martin Donovan), in Indiana. The boyfriend’s brutal unpleasantness is signified, as so often in cinematic circles these days, by devout Christianity, while Bill’s goodness and kindliness is testified to by the fact that he is a homosexual—and one who has recently lost is partner to AIDS.
DeeDee’s voiceover narration is far too obtrusive, coyly self-conscious and marked by what is popularly known as “attitude”—by which expression people intend to convey the idea of a very bad attitude. After a vignette at her stepfather’s funeral in which she defies her mother by throwing other things than dirt into the grave, in order to make a public spectacle of her contempt for the dead man, she proceeds to narrate her packing for departure, which we can see on the screen in po mo style: “This part, where I take the gun, is like, duh, important” and ends with an assurance that she is a very bad girl indeed, certainly not “plucky and scrappy and in need of love. I don’t have a heart of gold and I don’t grow one later, OK?”
It’s not OK, actually, but her seeking our approval is only a gesture. Not that it is not a familiar strategy to defy traditional canons of style which involve the author’s or narrator’s attempts to ingratiate himself or herself with the audience. But to me the tic is quite as phony and quite as annoying as the affectation of charming innocence which it replaced. In fact, quite a lot more so. But for those, and I believe there are many in the fashion, entertainment and media industries, who are still inclined to admire and even celebrate youthful expressions of “attitude,” this will presumably not be a problem.
Bill in Indiana is as soft hearted as expected, taking his half sister in in spite of the doubts of his late lover’s sister, Lucia (Lisa Kudrow) who has more or less moved in with him in order to share her grief for the dead brother, Tom. As DeeDee’s narration has it, “She used to have a life, but she stopped feeding it and it went away.” Both Lucia and Bill are schoolteachers. As a former teacher myself, I think Lucia tough-minded enough for the job, but I doubt that Bill could actually have survived in it for as long as he is supposed to have done. It is a funny idea to have him just blandly correct the grammar (though his own grammar-knowledge seems to be a bit shaky, judging from the terms in which he puts his correction) of a teenage vandal caught writing some obscene graffiti about him in the boys’ lavatory, but in real life such a teacher would be educational dead meat. But then perhaps in America’s public schools today this does not matter.
The loathsome little DeeDee as she is coming to seem—despite, or perhaps because of, the voiceover chumminess—promptly sets to work to seduce the current lover of her half brother, an attractive but quite stupid young man called Matt (Ivan Sergei). As he is so stupid, she easily persuades him to try women (politically Roos may be taking a bit of a risk here) and then informs him that he is the father of her child. Matt’s immediate willingness to take responsibility for the child, even later when thanks to the sharp-eyed Lucia he learns that it is not his own, is meant to be seen as being of a piece with the rest of his stupidity. DeeDee is as usual displaying her “attitude” in defiance: “Love him, hate me, right?” says the tiresome voiceover. Well, yes. Right.
There is a sort of plot involving DeeDee’s and Matt’s disappearance with $10,000 of Bill’s money, Bill’s and Lucia’s attempts to find them, the reappearance of Randy on the scene, more bad behavior on the part of the by-now intolerably arch and cute DeeDee which culminates in a murder, further flight to Canada, and the birth of DeeDee’s baby which is treated, as is by now traditional in American movies by or about homosexuals, as a joyous affirmation of this “unconventional family” grouping. By this time the group includes a young man, Jason Block (Johnny Galecki), who is Matt’s alternative homosexual lover and who attempts to blackmail Bill. Also Carl Tippett (Lyle Lovett), a local sheriff’s deputy who meets cute with Lucia, helps the others through their little legal difficulties and ends up sleeping with Lucia in a highly significant breaking of her emotional dam.
But in a way the point of the film comes at the only moment where wimpy Bill manages to get tough, even though it is with the pathetic Jason, and gives a little speech about having “survived” (typically melodramatic gay language) his schoolyard and adolescence and a hostile political climate represented by “every Republican and every other Democrat” and so unwilling to knuckle under to a little nonentity like him. This defiance prepares him for the lesson he has shortly to learn from the hitherto despised and cretinous Matt, namely that it is time to come to terms at last with Tom’s death. “You don’t get to make it better by being this really good guy who only cares about the insides of people,” Matt tells him. The fact is, “he [i.e. Tom] was robbed”—presumably of his life, presumably by the cosmic mugger and father figure that so many homosexuals love to hate. You’d think an English teacher wouldn’t have to be reminded of the romantic satisfaction to be derived from shaking a fist at the Almighty.