“Below Her Mouth” Predicts Six More Weeks of Shane

One thing is clear about Below Her Mouth, the new lesbian indie drama released Friday in some US theaters: its creators were committed to pulling off a realistic portrayal of what sex between two women can really look like for a mainstream audience. And they did! They did it so much. I’m talking a lot. To the point where I spent most of the movie going Whuuuuuuuuut and being grateful I didn’t actually decide to watch parts of it in public.

Remember that time Heather Hogan watched Carol on an airplane and the man sitting next to her complained to the attendant that she was watching “homosexual pornography” because of the movie’s understated sex scene that lasts for all of 20 seconds? Well, that man would really not like this movie if I was watching it while sitting next to him on a plane. Rather than call the attendant he would probably pull the emergency exit door en route and allow his body to be sucked into the sky with how much and what kind of sex between two women there is in this movie.

In fact, cataloguing where a sexual encounter takes place in this movie could read like a Dr. Suess poem.

Say!

Against a fridge / on a kitchen island / in a bed / on a staircase / almost in a truck / again in a bed / in a bath solo / in a bath together / in a strip club booth?

Would they, could they, against the fridge / on a kitchen island / in a bed / on a staircase / almost in a truck / again in a bed / in a bath solo / in a bath together / in a strip club booth?

They would and could against a fridge / on a kitchen island / in a bed / on a staircase / almost in a truck / again in a bed / in a bath solo / in a bath together / in a strip club booth!

They could do it here and there
They could do it anywhere.

Which I assume for a lot of people will be worth the price of admission. Do y’all’s thing! Go watch this unfold in a room full of people on a Friday night, no one’s here to judge. Anyway, it would have to be why you’re there, because all of the focus on sex seemed to be at the expense of an actual attempt at a new take on an old premise.

The recycled story isn’t the problem. Engaged straight girl becomes intrigued by mysterious lesbian is a fine enough story and one I assume will be the foundation of many movies to come – that is if heterosexuality is still an agreed upon phenomenon in the future. It’s the recycled dialogue and characters in this movie that haven’t been updated to reflect a change in the tides that have absolutely no business being in a movie in the great year of our lord, 2017.

It’s true that the dialogue sounds like it was created by using a Love Triangle Mad Libs template, but my real beef is with our protagonist: Dallas, the white, androgynous, woman-child who never expects to be held accountable for her actions and gets away with saying things like “I’ve got no emotional stamina for intimacy” without someone’s eyes rolling completely out of their head onto the floor of her converted loft.

This should be a familiar tune to us all. It’s such an overdone character that Dallas’s whole deal was established within the first minute of this film when she has detached sex with her live in girlfriend and refuses to be communicative afterwards. A minute in and the filmmakers were already done! Except they continue to have her repeat out loud the same sentiment, things like “I’m bad for you,” and, “No one will ever catch me,” which is a curious cementing of this persona for the audience considering this movie’s all-female, likely queerish crew. (Who did they think was seeing this character for the first time that they needed to tell not show over and over?)

As if every part of the movie is dedicated to driving this particular theme home, there’s even a lyric in a song that plays in one scene’s background that coos, “Fall down, standing up is boring.” No, you asshole, laying down is boring. Do something. Which is the thing that’s always confused me about this character that gets called upon for almost every piece of media that involves queer women – it’s not even an interesting one! As if being vacant and leaning into the idea that you’re someone “no one gets” is cool or revolutionary or something you should want to admit to freely!

This is not to say these queer women don’t exist in real life. I know they exist. I meet them all the time and they’re the world’s worst conversationalists. But it’s because of portrayals like this one in Below Her Mouth that they continue to be born.

It’s the reason I have a hard time watching most lesbian movies. What’s usually mirrored are one-dimensional tropes soon to be parroted back into a real life scene, and I’d rather not be a witness to that kind of darkness! It’s a vicious cycle that becomes a nightmare of our own making – life reflecting art reflecting life until no one knows what started where.

And this movie seems to wish upon the world a new generation of Shanes. But I’m urging you to let her rest. She’s been gone for nearly eight years.

Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 207 articles for us.

60 Comments

  1. When I watched the trailer for this, Budgie was taking a nap on my shoulder. She woke up and turned herself around so she was no longer facing the screen and then went back to sleep. It was a strong statement and one I think I agree with.

  2. ‘This is not to say these queer women don’t exist in real life. I know they exist. I meet them all the time and they’re the world’s worst conversationalists.’

    Fuckin’ amen sister

    • that’s totally how I thought The Handmaiden was going to be when I saw it with my gf at the time but just when it would start to get sexy it would take a far right turn into odd and hilarious

      • Weirdly enough I had a similar experience with “Room in Rome”, just that I didn’t see it with my girlfriend, but a friend.
        A friend I was visiting and staying with at the time.
        Awkward,awkward,awkward..

        Also, I have an uncanny knack of waltzing into these things with random friends and it’s just…no. I almost dragged my straight Catholic co worker into “Duke of Burgundy” the other day.

      • Ha “odd and hilarious” are not the terms I would use to describe this movie. Am I the only queer woman who saw this and was not disturbed by the child abuse and weird sex stuff? I actually got up and walked out halfway through.

        • It was based on a Sarah Waters novel, Fingersmith, that I liked a lot (which did have a lot of abuse in it) so I was prepared for that aspect.

          Def not referring to the abuse as hilarious, but specifically to the sex between Sook-Hee and Hideko.

  3. Maybe I’m shallow, but I’ll sacrifice meaningful dialogue for great lesbian sex in a movie any day. Every day. That’s not to say that I didn’t cringe several times over lines that seemed to belong in a flick of the quality that MST3K commonly targets for hilarious derision, but how great was it to have a lesbian character who could really deliver when the script made you say to yourself, “Aw, shut up & drive!”? For sure, Erika Linder is going to be the fantasy gay fling of many ostensibly straight women who watch this movie, and the poor guys in their lives are going to be under a lot of pressure to “fuck like a girl”!

  4. just watched it and you were right, obviously. Can I kindly ask you to do the review of A Date for Mad Mary? pleaaaase (said with puppy eyes) it’s really nice surprise, you’ll see (if not saw already)

  5. Thank you for calling out Shane’s bullshit! I always found her rather dull and thought there was something wrong with me. I’m with whoever said Alex and Maggie in Supergirl should be the new trope young queer women aspire to emulate. Call me crazy, but I’ll take a grown ass woman any day over some pouty woman-child.

  6. I’m all for more MOC/androgynous representation onscreen, but agree that I’d prefer to take a pass on the aspects of toxic masculinity that seem to always come with it when it does appear.

  7. I’ve been eagerly awaiting your thoughts Erin. You did not disappoint <3

    That poem was 1000x better than that whole movie. And basically the only thing you need to know about the whole movie!

  8. I think Shane’s character seemed more human , or maybe it was better acting, but there were ‘human’ moments of Shane and the non committal thing seemed real, but this character seemed like a sex robot…its like words fell like rocks from their mouth.

    • You’re right. Shane had more moments of humanity, but the writers of the show really didn’t know where to go with her after Carmen. Basically the death of Shane after season 3. Shane was most human with her brother Shay.

      In this film, Dallas is replaceable in my mind. The character adds so little to the story and to Jasmine’s life. If anything Jasmine is the true protagonist in what seems to be a love story. The story is barely anything. The only thing anyone taking from this film is what the “female gaze” can look like in practice. The film is a definite reaction to Blue is the Warmest Color and Weekend. Maybe even reacting to other films/movies doing this bare version of storytelling.

      • Yeah the whole Carmen wedding thing seemed forced to me, but then L word is another level of crazy i don’t want to get into.The only similarity Dallas and Shane have for me is that girls keep throwing themselves at both of them. I agree Jasmine’s​ character pulled the movie whatever there was to it, though even she couldn’t save it.

        • Jasmine is a flower we’ve all seen for decades, nothing new there. I believe what makes the film somewhat a slight saving grace are the sex scenes. Say what you will about it being softcore porn, the scenes if viewed at an angle has more story there then the whole film put together. I won’t spoil the scenes, but Jasmine begins to express sexually that speaks volumes over the dialogue. Thus Jasmine’s true awakening. None of the these things makes the film any less cringeworthy nor palatable. Not the characters, not the story, but those scenes should be taken into consideration.

          It is probably one of the reasons, why so many will view it at first. Yes, is the film a stereotype? Absolutely and one filled with the unfortunate tropes. I believe the film had to play it this way in order to make the sex scenes flourish. But also, the writing wasn’t great from beginning to end. Anyone looking at the script will say it is basic and unremarkable. So the director took some liberties, sex scene liberties. A slight saving grace.

        • You should watch it. It is one of the reasons why Below Her Mouth came to be. It was out in 2011, I believe. It is now, one of the templates for possibly the next few years of 21st century queer love stories.

          It did take from “The Before Trilogy” of Rick Linklater’s first two films: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. However, putting the queer narrative in the love story makes the film its own. Below Her Mouth was not only one of the films that came from Weekend, Theo & Hugo aka Paris 5:59 also used this template as well with a different approach to the love story.

          But, please do check out Weekend at least for your own queer cinema sensibilities.

  9. That Dr. Suess Poem! Accept my adoration already!

    What a bloody snarky review. I bloody loved it.

    I never got the Shane appeal and completely agree with your sentiment to ‘Let her go’ and not ‘let her grow.’ She was some one without a natural, inherent attractiveness…physically or conversationally. And was, is still a character whose attractiveness was thrust and hammered by the writers/show-runners until most of the L word viewers bought and entrenched the irritating trope.

  10. I’ve only seen the trailer, but I gotta say–if we’re talking about flat characters, what about the other romantic lead? There is absolutely nothing about her character that appears to be interesting, and in fact she seems pretty oblivious and superficial; well-off, about to marry a man she isn’t passionate about; the only thing she appears to have going for her is that she’s beautiful, in a completely conventional and uninteresting way. This is the kind of female character/actress who is already everywhere in straight television and film; and at this point she’s pretty normalized for queer women’s consumption too. At least the “shane” figure is enacting a gender expression that we DON’T get on our screens very often.

  11. I’m glad we are beyond the point where we feel like we have to support any lesbian movie that is made. My two biggest disappointments were Almost Adults and Below Her Mouth, but while I applaud the increased visibility in queer storytelling, you don’t get a free pass anymore.

  12. I agree that the dialogue wasn’t great and Dallas is an overused character, but I still really enjoyed Below Her Mouth. I think it was just such an incredible novelty to see sex between two women that looked realistic and appealing. Plus, I do have a soft spot for those types of characters, even though I can see the issue with them.

  13. Also I agree with others – I loved Shane as a character and whilst I understand why she induces eye-rolling in some, I think she did become very human and three-dimensional in a way that many copies of her don’t.

  14. Dallas’s character was downright complex compared to the other lead. This movie had the same level of character development as porn. Maybe if I had just approached it as porn I could have enjoyed the sex scenes for what they were, but I didn’t find them sexy at all. Also, Dallas was so creepy in her pursuit of the engaged girl! The girl says no to her at least 5 times and Dallas just continues to ask her out / try to kiss her / touch her crotch in public (!!!) like a lesbian Christian Grey with less money. But it’s all cool because we know the girl is secretly horny for ladysex (that’s pretty much her only character trait) and eventually stops saying no and gets into it. Can we retire that trope already??

  15. Erika Linden is sooo fackkingg beautifull!! Watch this movie, watch her, she’s amazing. You will live a happier life after 1,5 hour of her. There are so many beautiful shots of her in this movie.

    Even though i do recommend this movie, I also agree that the dialogue and story in general are shit. On the other hand, the lights and way of filming are lovely and make a little up for that.

    • I lasted about halfway then yelled ‘NOPE’ and went back to watching Brooklyn 99

      Then I thought, ‘I really want Erin to review this movie’…which she did…like 3 months ago…and I commented on it???

      Perhaps my brain was trying to protect me from the trauma of this terrible, awful, no-good film

  16. I read many ‘o comments on a multitude of gay movies on this forum. And each and every time these films we discuss boil down to: another gay dies at the end, love between two women is depicting as a bit of rough kissing, the straight girl goes back to the boyfriend. Lesbian cinema bores my eyes right out of my face.

    Below her mouth finally woke me up.

    And is it one hundred percent realistic? No, but it’s a film. I need films to pick me up and move me. This one did.

    We’re always complaining about how lesbianism is portrayed. I know I am. This one finally had me thinking: huh, I actually like this!

    I respect everyone’s opinion, of course. But maybe we should just be happy about this one. It’s freaking hot, nobody dies and it’s a big change from anything I have seen so far.

  17. Looked up this review after I tried to watch the movie last night to see what Autostraddle had to say about it (not disappointed). I quit at 13mins 45seconds after Dallas follows her outside after following her all over the club repeatedly after she says “no” and walks away again and again. I used to live in fear when I was young of people doing this to me (it was always men). I just can’t with this behavior. I wanted to punch Dallas.

  18. LOL, all of this. I wanted to like this movie so much but I kept finding myself scrolling through Instagram and realizing I missed the last ten minutes. (That may be a separate issue.) Sexy scenes were sexy and it was all beautifully shot but the characters were caricatures. Dallas is the worssssttttt.

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