“‘Better Than Chocolate’ was the GOLD STANDARD.” – Heather Hogan, dream woman
One lesbian movie to rule them all. Somehow this 1999 lesbian classic managed to slip under my radar all these years, so Heather’s statement seemed like a dare to me! But then I saw the movie’s cover which was two naked women in embrace, and read the synopsis which was, “Two attractive young lesbians, Maggie and Kim, meet in Vancouver, develop a passionate romance, and move in together,” and at once I bowed and said aloud, “Your Majesty.”
This opening title? 1999? Vancouver? A passionate romance that leads to cohabitation? What I learned in watching this is that “develop” was a generous descriptor of the progression of events in this film, that according to this movie zero people of color exist in Canada, and also that I am so, so glad this was not my first introduction into the queer scene.
Follow my descent into this crazy thing we call love.
Alright, we’re starting with some funky music at drag show. This is relatable because when I first started dating women I also found myself at a lot of drag shows, where almost every single drag king was called Justin, like Justin Case. I never understood why more names weren’t utilized, like Ben — Ben Smooth — or Mark — Mark Miwurds.
Here’s where we first meet Maggie, who’s performing on stage at The Cat’s Ass wearing a halo. Could this be foreshadowing? And, yes, the gay bar is called The Cat’s Ass because the writer of this movie, Anne Wheeler, was apparently challenged to come up with the world’s grossest name for a bar and she was like, “No problem.”
Maggie exits the stage and it looks like she’s leaving the party early. On her way out she’s stopped on the street by two skinheads. Oh, are we starting this movie out with a hate crime? A van pulls up and beeps so the skinheads decide to leave. This seems a bit passive for Neo Nazis but I’ll take it! Then – in the weirdest setup for a meet cute of all time – Kim exits the van and asks Maggie, “Are you okay?”
Maggie says she’s fine, thanks, and Kim’s like “cool cool” as she walks back to her van with her hands in her cargo shorts. I wonder where Maggie’s heading after her night at the gay bar, except no I don’t, because of course she’s going to the gay bookstore, Ten Percent Books.
Do you get it. Right when she opens the door the music changes from club to a genre that my ex liked to call “lesbian scrapbooking music.” That very abrupt musical transition made me laugh out loud and it makes me sad that queer book stores are becoming a thing of the past and that I won’t get to experience that magic moment as I walk into a place called something like Buy Curious Books again.
Now we’re in a sex toy store, the third wonder of the lesbian world after lesbian bar and lesbian bookstore. We’ve only got lesbian coffee shop and lesbian art studio left to go! Keep in mind we’re not even three minutes into this movie, so we’ll get there, I’m sure. Oh, no, this is not a sex toy store, there is just an ENTIRE WALL OF DILDOS in the book store. This is where Maggie sleeps.
My favorite 90’s Mom from The Good Son, The Santa Clause, and Air Force One is also Maggie’s mom, Lila, and is calling! She’s divorcing from her husband and Maggie says something like, “Finally,” which feels hurtful. Lila doesn’t know Maggie’s sleeping in a gay bookstore or that Maggie’s gay, but she does know that Maggie’s dropped out of school. When her mom brings up the school thing she does that Upset Mom Register that sits in the back of the throat and sounds like a cry is doing its best to try and muffle a scream but then they both just come out at the same time.
Maggie tries to pacify the situation by saying she found a great place in an interesting part of town, definitely not on a couch in the back of a bookstore where she stares at a wall of dicks. Maggie’s mom is like, “Oh, good, because I’m moving out of the house and your brother and I need a place to crash,” and then before Maggie can interject her mom goes, “See you soon!” and hangs up even though she has no address or any information. In a taxi like, “Where are we headed today?” “Maggie’s apartment!”
Hip lesbian bookstore owner, Frances, emerges from the shadows to tell Maggie she better figure out a place to live because she’s not staying here! The conflict in this movie arrived so fast!
Maggie finds an apartment sublet in what looks like an old sawmill, because god forbid a lesbian in a movie live in a townhouse. The woman she’s subletting from is giving her sex toys a good ol’ polishin’ as they talk logistics. It’s for the month and the month only, and no surprises!
We’re back at the book store and ayyy who’s this woman dusting the dildos? From the sound of it she’s VERY into sex. Oh, it’s Carla, the bisexual. Right, because bisexuals are sex-crazed. This movie gets it! And here we go, Ani DiFranco in the background. Five minutes into the movie and honestly I don’t know if I could come up with a more stereotypical lesbian movie if I tried. Doesn’t mean I won’t try!
The bongos and strum of Ani’s acoustic guitar usher in this sweeping scene: Maggie’s walking outside and spots Kim doing a portrait of a guy outside her artsy van.
The guy who’s getting his portrait done, Tony, waves Maggie over. He’s the owner of the coffee shop next to Ten Percent Books and he seems like a terrible person. Tony confirms my suspicions seconds later when he instead of paying Kim for his portrait he just takes it and is like, “You can have a free coffee at my coffee shop.”
He walks away and Kim gestures to Maggie like, “This freaking guy,” and asks Maggie to sit for a portrait. Maggie explains she doesn’t have any money, but, oh, I’m sure y’all can figure something out, am I right ladies?!?! Kim gets right down to business and unleashes Assertive Top Lesbian: “You have beautiful eyes.” As she’s drawing, Kim explains that she lives in her van, and because all of her belongings are in there she’s essentially driving around a U-Haul.
Next up is the coffee shop! There Maggie unfurls the portrait Kim’s just finished and it looks like if a child was asked to draw a “scary lady”.
Maggie’s face and my brain are screaming, “You have to give up drawing immediately,” but what comes out of Maggie’s mouth is, “You’re good.” Who among us haven’t done this. And I’m sorry, but why does Maggie always look like she’s just walked into the wrong meeting?
So in this movie it’s been a total of two minutes that Maggie and Kim have known each other and they’re already discussing how they are going to handle Maggie’s family coming into town. Like we have officially fast-forwarded eight months into dating. Hahaha, then there’s this close up of Maggie’s face and Kim’s hand creeps into the frame attempting to stroke Maggie’s hair but just misses. There, there, sweet girl.
As they go to kiss they get kicked out of the coffee shop by Tony because he explains that it’s a family coffee shop. Instead of flipping a table or two they’re pretty much like, “Alright, see you later, friend!”
We’re moving fast here so of course immediately after they leave the coffee shop Kim asks Maggie to join her in her van for sex. Think about if this really was the first lesbian movie I saw and how that might have shaped how I thought things went when you first meet someone you’re interested in. “Hi, what’s your name?” “It’s Erin, and my sex van is right outside.”
Maggie accepts Kim’s offer and once they’re inside it’s time for some mindful hugging.
Then Kim proceeds to lay Maggie down eeeever so gently. We’re talking a good 20 seconds to get her all the way down. I’m trying to imagine this scene happening to me. Someone invites me into their van after five minutes of knowing them, and then once I’m inside they start to hug me for a really long time, and then after that’s done they recline my body onto a bed at the speed of a rope-operated dumbwaiter.
Their weird but spot-on lesbian foreplay gets interrupted by the tow truck that’s hauling them away to the pound!
This film can’t decide if it wants to be wacky or intense and I really need it to pick one. “I’m not just one thing.” – This Movie, also probably upcoming dialogue from a bisexual character in this movie.
After getting towed they head over to Maggie’s new place. They’re sort of poking around the subletter’s stuff and Kim finds five sex toys all within arms reach. Whoever Anne’s basing this character off of needs to CALM DOWN. Kim puts all of the toys on display in the window and Maggie’s like, “My mom’s coming silly!” and that makes sense but then immediately after that they strip naked so they can paint on each other’s bodies and roll around on a tarp.
Both hands, they are using both hands, they are writing graffiti on their bodies, they are drawing the story of how hard they tried. The song that’s playing has lines like “Please hold me” and “You touch my heart” but it’s also peppered with a woman moaning, and again it’s like, pick one. Either be scrapbook music or be sex music, don’t be both!
Shower time! As they make out Kim is coming a bit from the side and has one hand on the side of Maggie’s face, sort of like she’s showcasing her head, and I’m starting to think that Kim doesn’t totally understand human bodies. Mid-make out there’s a knock at the door – it’s Maggie’s mom and brother!
Maggie and Kim freak and pretend they’re temporary roommates, something I’m sure will be made permanent by nightfall.
Okay, it’s later that night and – finally – they’re having sex. Naturally, they’re on the floor surrounded by a bunch of tapestries and candles. Maggie keeps reminding Kim to “shhh” but then lets out these high pitched sighs that turn into mini screams, which is now the second time she’s presented a reasonable objective only to immediately abandon it.
I wonder how many times this particular scene has been rewound by the collective queers of the world. That is a number I would love to know. The noise wakes up her brother in the other room and he’s off to investigate. There’s no need to do too much searching because they’ve left the door WIDE OPEN. Well, Maggie’s brother seems very excited to see his sister have sex, which is something.
Now we’re back at the bookstore and there’s a story line that I genuinely could not care less about but keeps being brought up so: the bookstore has been notified that books they’ve ordered for their inventory are being help up at customs for being “offensive material” even though they’re just books about safe gay sex. There. ARE YOU HAPPY, ANNE WHEELER, THE WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF THIS MOVIE? Why is this being given so much air time when we need a good 30 minutes from you to explain to us where these two women are mentally that within an hour of knowing each other their sense of self and boundaries have completely dissolved? But please, continue on about the books.
The good news is there’s a trans woman, Judy, that’s introduced but the bad news is that Judy is played by a cis man. Judy has a thing for Frances and I’m counting on Frances – who always has a joint in her hand – to knock it off with the weirdness towards Judy. I have to say, though, Judy’s story line is being considered in a way that I did not expect and is also being handled with some finesse.
Judy stops by Maggie’s place to drop off a housewarming gift and meets Lila. They have a glass of wine together and exchange a lovely conversation about their fears about essentially not being enough. In the end, though, they decide, you know what? Cheers to strong women. This is already my favorite pair.
Later at Maggie’s place everyone’s hanging out and after asking Kim if she has a boyfriend, Lila asks the real question we’ve all been wondering: “What is that god awful music?”
Hey, it’s a Cat’s Ass kind of night!
Carla’s brought Maggie’s brother (who it’s been made clear is 17 and not of consenting age), Judy’s celebrating after buying an apartment with the help of Lila (who swindled her way into a job as a realtor) and is set to perform, and Maggie and Kim are busy having sex in the bathroom.
Everyone in the bathroom is whooping and hollering even though they’re all in line to use the only stall available. Let me just say if there were two people having sex in a bathroom’s only stall for a long time while a line I was in formed out the door, I would not be whooping and hollering.
With the adrenaline of a great performance under Judy’s belt and a little encouragement from the conversation she’d had with Lila earlier that day, Judy decides to tell Frances she’s in love with her. And it seems to be well received! Judy goes to the bathroom to freshen up when all of a sudden this other woman walks up behind her while grimacing and does this TERRIFYING puckering noise with her mouth.
It’s the same sound an old lady made at my girlfriend and me outside the Vatican in Rome when she saw us holding hands and I 100% had a curse put on me that day. Then like she’s a villain from Scooby Doo the bigot says, “Aren’t you in the wrong place, sir?” and then throws water in Judy’s face. Judy simply says, “Are you happy now?” and wow I do not like this scene!!!!!!
We’re back on the dance floor. Maggie and Kim are slow dancing with their foreheads touching like they’re trying to tap into the other’s third eye.
Kim crinkles out a single rose still in the plastic wrap from her back pocket and whispers, “Let’s go,” and I’m assuming she means back to the bathroom. Kim did mean back to the bathroom, and when they get inside Judy is being attacked by that horrible woman. Maggie and Kim apprehend the attacker and force her to apologize to Judy, but the fact that this scene is cushioned between a scene of a tantric make out and a scene of Maggie’s mom back at the apartment finding another box of sex toys make this scene feel flippant.
Now Bisexual Carla is bringing Maggie’s younger brother to an empty lot overlooking Vancouver’s skyline to have sex with him. Ayiyi. He asks if she really likes boys and she says, “Soft centers, hard centers, I like all the chocolates in the box.” Carla Gump.
Without any discussion of the traumatic experience that’s just happened to Judy, she back at Frances’s place. They both look very nervous and after a quick kiss it falls apart. Judy leaves and everything’s terrible.
Back at Maggie’s apartment Lila is using the box of toys she found and whoa is she having a ball! Now This Is What She Calls Music: Volume Boioioiong!
The next morning Maggie’s mom is walking on air. Frankly I’m surprised she’s walking at all! Her mellow is harshed, though, when she walks in on Maggie and Kim cuddling in their underwear on the couch.
Oh! Oh, yes, right, I see. But also, she has some questions about the box she found. Maggie tells her it’s all a misunderstanding, they’re not hers, and her mom’s like, “Well, I used all of them???” and then they all find themselves on the couch discussing how much Lila enjoyed the sex toys.
Lila questions whether or not Maggie’s actually in love with Kim, and when Maggie doesn’t answer right away, Kim’s out of there. Maggie tries to run after her but Kim’s not having any of it. “I can’t believe we’ve only known each other for three whole days and you can’t even say you’re in love with me!!!” Then Maggie sprints in the opposite direction to nowhere in particular.
Kim’s going to San Francisco, but before she does she meets up with Judy. They’re both upset knowing that the people they have feelings for can’t fully let go of whatever fear they’re holding onto. Kim says Judy is “one in a million” and it’s a shame more of the movie isn’t like this.
Oh, thank god, I was so worried about the book store crisis. Now the customs people are coming for Frances’s movies! I’m going to bankrupt myself by opening my own Ten Percent Books so I can never talk about books or movies ever and just play racquetball in there.
Lila’s hanging out at Judy’s new place and there’s a package that comes for “Jeremy.” Judy explains that she’s “Jeremy” and Lila has a melt down. She goes to the fridge and downs an entire glass of Chardonnay which is just gross. Oh, yes, you just went through and used an entire box of used sex toys that you thought were YOUR DAUGHTER’S and Judy’s the weird one here.
The letter that arrives for Judy is from her parents and it explains that we won’t be interacting anymore, but please do enjoy the condo we bought you. Lila seems upset for Judy when she hears that and it seems she realizes how awful she’s just been downstairs. Judy’s upset, but also, she’s FULL OF RAGE. She starts taking the opened paint cans she has lying around and starts thrashing them against the wall.
Lila joins in and they reconnect on a human level. Then they get drunk, decide they’re “goddesses,” and scream, “MAKEOVER!!!!” I want a movie with just these two.
Okay, now we have reached the scene that I bet everyone has in mind when they groan at the mention of this movie. We are back at Ten Percent Books where Maggie – fueled by oppression and love lost – stands naked in the window with a sign over her chest that says “OBSCENE LESBIAN” and a sign over her pelvis that says “PERVERT.” I mean, this is textbook.
And there we go, scrapbook music. Another quick cut/music transition into a scene where skinheads start to circle Maggie’s window display like sharks.
Judy and Maggie’s mom are stumbling around Vancouver hammered trying to find Frances and they happen upon the bookstore where they see the skinheads trying to get inside. Lila gives her best attempt at a slap session and fails miserably. Judy takes a punch to the face before giving one of her own. The four skinheads that easily outweigh them in size and blind hatred take that one punch as a sign that they should leave. Again, not the the skinheads I’m used to reading about!
How do I describe the next three minutes of the movie without it seeming like a MacGruber skit? Well, Judy and Maggie’s mom make their way inside the store to make sure Maggie’s alright, and then Judy goes next door to the coffee shop where Tony is fixing a gas pipe. Just as he’s explaining that the hose doesn’t fit, the skinheads drive up and launch flamethrowers through the windows. Yes, this is happening. One flamethrower nears Tony and because of the exposed gas BOTH STORES BLOW UP.
This is so much. Oh my god, I just came here for a romantic comedy! “It’s explosive.” – A more accurate movie blurb.
Amazingly, no one is hurt. Judy runs outside for help and here comes Frances to declare her love for Judy. I would be so scared to meet the writer Anne Wheeler because based on every relationship in this movie I’m pretty sure if you just introduce yourself to Anne she’d be like, “It’s so nice to meet you and also be in love with you.”
Would you believe it, Kim’s come back, too. There’s a burning building in the background, Maggie is bloody and naked, and sirens are approaching, and rather than frantically scream “MAGGIE WTF IS GOING ON?!?!” Kim slowly saunters up without ever losing eye contact or saying a word and then sensually kisses a terrified Maggie. Who is she.
The credits roll and wrap up everyone’s story lines. Lila performs for the first time at The Cat’s Ass. Carla and Maggie’s brother live together. Frances and Judy get married. Kim and Maggie go on tour as performers (of what?) and Maggie writes her first book, “Better Than Chocolate.” The last line of the movie is said by Maggie’s brother who is watching his mom perform onstage and he goes, “Yeah, shake it, Mama, whew, ugh!” and I need him and/or Carla to go to jail.
I feel like I’ve been through so much. I feel damaged, like this movie has taken a part of my soul. And not only does this movie refuse to apologize for it, I think it’s going to use my soul’s energy in order to make it even more ridiculous for the next person who watches it. It’s like The Ring, but instead of bad things happening to the next viewer, the movie just gets worse. I’m sure it started out as a normal movie about two women who meet and spend an appropriate amount of time together before finding love in this crazy world, and now 17 years and thousands of views later it’s essentially Lesbian Die Hard.
Go forth in peace, my kittens, and don’t be like me – break this chain of power.
What the fuck.
caitlin i know
Nobody died. Nobody got cancer. That’s what we called “triumphant” back in the day.
hey there is that
MARK MIWURDS *dies*
ok, lemme finish reading this jewel of a piece
i’d forgotten how bad this movie is, but being able to vicariously live through you viewing it for the first time made it a little less bad. this was great thank you so much!
ahaha thank you alaina let’s watch imagine me & you together
done and DONE
Please let me come watch that, too. I dearly love Lena Headey.
I think your Ring theory might be correct, because I know I saw this movie in middle school but I don’t remember it being so ridiculous. Though 14-year-old me was probs not the most sophisticated of film critics (case in point: I actually loved The Ring and watched it at least twenty times).
This is one of the most entertaining recaps of anything that I’ve ever read.
Erin, you are a gem.
alyssa it’s for you xo
This is the most accurate review of this movie I’ve ever read. I spent most of the time watching wishing I could just spend the entire movie with Judy and stop watching Maggie and Kim having weird paint sex, which was uncharacteristic of 16 year old me, who was desperate to see ladies banging usually.
but… I like Die Hard.
I wish there was an actual lesbian Die Hard. It’d probably be my favorite movie.
That sounds amazing…
Erin, this was HILARIOUS and COMPLETELY ACCURATE. Well done.
However, I do feel the need to defend the bookstore storyline. Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium is an actual queer bookstore in Vancouver, that was repeatedly harassed by the Canadian government and the Canada Customs because of their attempts to import queer books into Canada from the US. When they took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, the SCC said that Canada Customs had discriminated against Little Sisters specifically because of the types of books they were importing. While the case upheld Canada Customs’s right to prevent the importation of material that had already been banned as obscene by the courts, it limited the agency’s right to preemptively or punitively hold material that had not been already been declared obscene. It is a very important part of LGBT jurisprudence in Canada, and the case would have been VERY VERY familiar and relevant to Canadian queers in the 1990’s. So THAT’s why that storyline was in there.
You can read more about Little Sister’s here: https://little-sisters-book-art-emporium.myshopify.com/
allison! no, i mean, this plot line did drive a lot of the action in the movie and was obviously important. i didn’t know it was ripped from the headlines either! i just wanted as much attention to character development as this book store, which was my nemesis at the time.
And also also! The person playing Frances is the incredibly talented author Ann Marie MacDonald who wrote Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies, who should definitely keep her day job because she is much better at writing breathtaking turns of phrase in narrative fiction than she is at acting.
I’m so glad you mentioned this–I have always wanted to read those two books, but every time I pick one up I remember this movie and put it down!
I didn’t realize Ann Marie MacDonald acted until we started talking about her acting career in my Queer Canadian Culture class and I had this sudden revelation that she was the mousy bookstore owner. To be fair, I was too young to know who she was when I first watched it… Also somehow didn’t realize this was set in Canada…
And, to be fair, Little Sister’s is like 70% sex toys, 30% books. So the wall of dildos is pretty accurate.
The book Macho Sluts has a great intro about the Little Sister’s case, as well as Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada.
Yes, I saw this film when it came out, and even in the US we knew that the customs plot was ripped-from-the-headlines and an ongoing, which made it feel relevant in a way it may not now.
It doesn’t make it better written, but it did feel a little more like part-of-what-is-happening-in-our community.
I’m glad you posted that. It’s really weird for me to read that the author can’t connect to the bookstore story line. On the other hand- there aren’t any lesbian or gay bookstores left, so maybe the whole brouhaha is annoying to you young ones.
The trans woman story line was one of a kind and absolutely stunning for the time and it might even have been the first positive one in a lesbian context.
It’s not that I feel old, I feel like from an alternate reality
“‘Better Than Chocolate’ was the GOLD STANDARD.”
Why, Heather? Why.
This movie was shitty when it came out, and I am not surprised to hear that it remains shitty. It was, in a way, archetypal of the films of the era, it had all the expected (ridiculous) pieces, but somehow put them together in an even less plausible way than its contemporaries.
A note on the censorship thing though — that was a huge issue at the time. Huge. Now I am wondering if the whole movie only exists so that she could write a story about the censorship situation…
maital dar in life we never question heather!!
and it seems that, yes, that is why anne wrote this movie
i feel like it’s possible that the only version of this movie i have seen is a supercut of the sex scenes.
Erin, if you watch/review Nicole Conn’s entire œuvre, I promise I’ll pay for your subsequent therapy.
Oh, the things I’d do for a review of Claire of the Moon (or even Elena Undone). Erin, please make this happen.
In the 90s when I came out, Claire of the Moon had a reputation for being so, so bad that you should never watch it, no matter how desperate you were to see a lesbian movie. So I never did. But I would love to read a recap!
i have started BUT NOT FINISHED every nicole conn film in the history of nicole conn films
That’s what my exgirlfriend and I found ourselves doing. We didn’t have it explicitly cut, but they mostly show up in the first 20-30 minutes, so it’s not hard to make it through. we usually didn’t manage to make the whole thing in one viewing (and usually didn’t try to finish it).
BRB Making Actual Lesbian Die Hard!
omg i did not know :^D
It’s like the 80’s and all the B movies ever did the horizontal tango and left this in the sheets.
I love it.
The earlier efforts at ‘lesbian’ cinema mostly remind me of a 6 year old’s attempts at pottery – ‘awww … so … lovely… I can see how much effort you put into it…’. Salmonberries, Even Cowgirls – no, really?
Luckily, like most 6 year olds, the early writers/directors/producers either gave up, or took it up professionally and created something approximating a slice of cinema most of us could find an intersection with. Although there does still seem to be a consistent residue of ‘awww …so… lovely, please stop making all this stuff, I’m running out of shelf space’
Can you just watch and give a synopsis of every movie that comes out, ever?
I absolutely loved reading this.
danielle i can do that for you
This is review is EXCELLENT! :D I don’t know if it is so much any more but this movie really was kind of a queer girl right of passage back in the day. Such a ridiculous movie but it’s hard to hate it since it’s heart is in the right place and has such positive energy.
there really are moments that are great!
(warning: I use the d-word, the four-letter one with a y in it, as a descriptor. If this is a word that you don’t like reading for whatever reason, you might want to skip this. Thx.)
OMG, I so loved that film! It was the first time I ever saw a translesbian (trans lesbian?) portrayed onscreen. I didn’t even know she was in the movie before we went, it just looked romantic and hot. And I didn’t really care she was played by a cis male, as we would say now; a lot of trans women started out that way, and I just kvelled seeing a *positive*, even loving, portrayal of Someone Like Me. I still now get tears in my eyes, and I smile. And of course, the film is beautiful, beautiful…
After that we went to The Rising, this briefly-extant Irish dyke bar in the Slope, ran into some friends who had moved away to Bay Ridge (also Brooklyn, technically, but in a parallel universe), and they were with their friends from Bay Ridge. We all sat outside at the big wooden tables, our friend Pierre explained who I was, as it were, and after that, it was just this wonderful warm feeling that carried over from the movie. I *belonged*. I was on the team. Some of them had even played softball earlier.
What I’ve decided just now to call the Un-Dyking of the Slope started soon after; apartment rents shot up, the bubble was starting to inflate. A lot of my Facepalm friends moved to Happy Valley (Northampton and points north to Canada, practically, or beyond.) I gave up on my transition and tried to focus on being a mom at home and looking like a dad at the playground. Brooklyn started to become whatever it’s becoming. But I’ve always thought of that movie fondly, as part of a perfect evening, before the end of an era, and I was so happy that night.
i like this review of the review and i really did love judy’s love story line
I love this, thank you.
Is “dyke” a forbidden word here? Everyone I know calls herself a dyke… well, not the males or the heteros or the bis, but it still feels like a mainstream word “in the community”– is that untrue at AS?
I identify as a dyke, but some people are sensitive to it as a slur! Really depends on the person, I think.
I thought we reclaimed it in the 1970s. I didn’t even grow up in a “LGBT hub” so I thought that if we were using it in straight-laced conservative straightville in my 1970s youth, the word surely was in wide circulation elsewhere, especially decades on.
I’m genuinely surprised. How can we use the word queer with pride, if we can’t use the word dyke the same way?
I can’t go along with that. It feels like a huge, huge erasure and an insult to generations of women who fought hard for the increased freedoms that many of us now enjoy. Silencing that or putting disclaimers on it is like saying we should go back in the closet and shut the hell up and be ladies while everyone else celebrates their own liberation.
No, probably not. I’m new here, and treading lightly; “queer” is a word it took me years to get used to simply because it was what they called me to make me cry in elementary school. I’m overcompensating, I guess, but there are other words I used to use all the time which have fallen out of favor–“tranny” comes to mind, it was what we called ourselves but no one else really knew the word then. Just trying to be considerate.
Dyke, dyke, dyke, dyke, dyke!
I have to second this… It was formative, in that it was possible to be a lesbian who is trans, and that I wasn’t “A fucking drag queen”. It was basically the first positive thing I saw portrayed about me.
I agree, the trans storyline was stunning at the time.
Yeah I think a lot of trans people related to this movie in a wierd way, when i saw it, there was a lot of gay representation that omitted trans people very, and there were a lot of terfs still in the gay community. I remember watching this movie and thinking “wtf is going on” “ok this is kinda hot” “oh wow they made a lesbian movie and don’t hate trans people!” that last bit was a big deal at the time, and was pretty much my main takeaway from it since I could not figure out the plot to save my life. I kept feeling like I missed something.
The more I think about it, I remember cis lesbians introducing me and my best friend, who is now my partner, next to my as I type this, to this movie, and while we had accepting friends in the local community, there was a resonating feeling that as a whole trans women, were not welcome as part of the identity of “lesbian.” seeing this movie that, like others said was kind of a younger lesbian rite of passage, and then seeing myself represented in that movie, albeit morbidly clumsily and by a dude, really subverted that feeling of being unwelcome for both me and my partner.
Please do “Bound” next. Or “High Art.” I shamefully own both of those films, as all queer women of the early 2000’s do. We had such low standards…
This is the best review I’ve ever read of anything, ever. A few years ago when I went on a lesbian movie watching spree (Thanks, Netflix) and I feel like I watched about 100 terrible lesbian movies. But this one was probably the most ridiculous of the bunch. But do you ever encounter something that’s so silly and not good, but you’re still kind of glad it exists? Like, a lot of the music I listened to in the 90s would fit in this category. That’s sort of how I feel about this movie.
And now I’m even happier that this movie exists because I LOLed multiple times while reading this which is incredibly rare for me. Most of the time, when I read something funny online, I’m thinking, “That’s funny,” but anyone looking at me would just see my stone cold resting bitch face.
what the heck! This was not supposed to be a reply to Kaelyn’s comment.
Co-signed and heartily seconded!
Yes High Art please! I should be embarrassed at the number of times I watched this and high art in hs…
So you would say High Art isn’t high art?
I was only vaguely sentient in the early 2000s and I remember picking up ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ at the DVD place, wrinkling my nose, and thinking sanctimoniously “That’s a movie for *gay* people”. Ah, how my standards have changed…
That’s so funny.
I remember seeing the “But I’m a Cheerleader” title and thinking: “Ugh! Cheerleaders!”
We all think stupid things and then get humbled later.
Finally, someone has written a review of this movie that speaks to my heart.
But I’ve totally rewound that scene a bunch of times. Look, when you’re raised in the desert, every drop of water is precious. PRECIOUS.
wow this metaphor is maybe the most beautiful metaphor?
Comment award for Emily please!
I laughed so much reading this that I was mostly emitting high-pitched noises!
Please, please let me volunteer a similar article for “Jenny’s Wedding”, the worst post-gay marriage movie ever made
i had to actually turn this movie off! has there ever been two people with less chemistry on screen??
Same, I am impressed with anyone who made it through that movie, I have seen inanimate objects with more chemistry.
At one point I paused the movie when Katherine Heigl is moving in for a passionless kiss and pointed to her hair. Here, I said to my friend, that’s how you’re supposed to know she’s a lesbian: her hair is always in a ponytail and you can see the elastic! In every movie about straight ladies the elastic is always wrapped in a lock of hair. The costume design person must have stressed out for a little there – “how do I convey that she’s gay but also conservative? Sporty long ponytail! Nailed it!”
Don’t even get me started about the conga line. I laugh alone thinking about that one sometimes.
YES. It is the beigest lesbian movie I’ve ever seen. Like, eggshell paint chips are more vibrant than those two together
Which I realize people have probably mentioned before. But I think it holds true…especially since that is the literal color scheme of the film
I watched about 20 mins of Jenny’s Wedding and I only watched in the hope it would be entertainingly bad, instead it was just tediously bad.
I assume that no one involved in making that film has ever spent more than five minutes with an LGBT person on watched any media made by any LGBT people.
Jenny’s entire personality was “very unremarkable person who is unhappy about her family trying to set her up with men”. Which no one involved in this film seemed to realise is not a personality.
Her relationship with her girlfriend seem to be of two flatmates who ended up living together because they were mutual friends with a third planned flatmate who dropped out so now they have politely go to know each other and agreed a rota for chores. All the straight people I know have more chemistry with each other than they did.
This was the first queer film I ever watched and boy did it make an *impression*. 15 year old me was not ready for women to paint each other with chocolate and roll around to make “goddess paintings”. (Just kidding, she was more than ready.)
Years later I ended up moving to Vancouver and one day found myself being driven through Davie Village (our gaybourhood) past the book store 10 Percent Books is based on, by the producer of Better than Chocolate, while I covertly held hands with my then-secret-girlfriend (now-wife) in the back seat. I’m just saying, sometimes life can gift you some incredibly gay moments.
oh wow this is magical
I kind of want to hear the story behind that moment :-)
Haha, well, the producer was the head of the film program at the university I went to and we’d just helped her film a lecture by the dean of arts and she was driving us back to school. Actually the writer of Better than Chocolate (who isn’t Anne Wheeler, but everyone is having so much fun yelling “ANNE!” I don’t want to harsh their vibes) was one of my screenwriting profs as well. She’s actually really terrific, but I’m not sure anyone who has seen this movie will believe me when I say it.
Our film program actually had a policy of “we can’t enforce this, but STRONGLY SUGGEST you don’t date within the program”, hence us keeping it a secret for YEARS… so basically we were keeping our relationship a secret so that the women who made Better than Fucking Chocolate wouldn’t know we were in a big lesbian relationship, which now that I write it down is just absolutely bananas.
For the two people in the comments who loved this movie, surprise! You can go to film school and learn how to make movies from the people who made this movie!
For everyone else, surprise! The filmmakers of this movie have been training future filmmakers for the last 10+ years! Better just go limp and buy your tickets for Better Than Ice Cream now >:]
Petition for “lesbian scrapbooking music” to be the theme of the next Autostraddle playlist!
“It’s so nice to meet you and also be in love with you.”
– maybe Anne Wheeler came out and then immediately attended A-Camp
I just laughed out loud multiple times. I know you want the chain to be broken but I kind of have to see this movie now.
I have never seen this movie. I know nothing about it (well, NOW I do, having read this review). But I am sitting here in this coffee shop trying not to die by exploding from holding in all the snerks and chortles. You, madam…you are a gift. I don’t ever need to see this movie now. I can read your synopsis again and be far more entertained. Brava. This is seriously the hardest I’ve had to try to keep myself composed since reading a countdown of the forty worst Rob Liefeld drawings.
Seriously, though, what is up with absolutely terrible art aimed at queer women. Especially movies, but TV shows and books and such as well. I do not get it. I know that there are enough artists out there that better stuff should exist. Does the good stuff just not get made and/or promoted? I still remember trying to endure The L Word all those years ago when it came out and thinking, “No one I know is like this. Who are these people? Also why is the story so terrible? Did we decide abundant ladysex is enough to carry a show? Because it totally isn’t.”
thank you a kat!
You’re welcome PLZ WRIT MOAR
I’ve never seen this movie. And now I don’t have to! Thanks, Erin!
I’m not sure if that bar name is better or worse than the one I want to open: “When Mary Met Sally.” =)
That bar name is just perfection. You should open it!
the dildo gathering emergency scene is written into my soul forever, in neon letters.
and i really wanted a best friend or gf like Kim – before i realised they don’t exist and i became one to someone else, just to fuck with reality.
Also TEH WOMAN, Anne fucking Wheeler. I am the sort of person who goes to a rave in a very wrong place in london, has my inner voice and MDMA ganging up on me and talking me into going to gfs place (2.5h walk) on foot, explains to the friendly people in the street i’m ex Russian Spetsnaz – and they just so buy it. But Anne Wheeler – she honestly can turn up, drink my house dry without permission, throw up on the furry cushion on my computer chair and fall asleep in the bath – and i’d feel honoured. Because she’s a legend. To not only write a transsexual lesbian char into a niche movie aimed at a community fully mind-controlled by the fucking cult but also have someone upstanding and faithful just so stomped for lulz – she’s got more courage and insanity sober than i could ever possibly have under any known substance. And if that’s not enough, she more or less got away with it. Seriously teh boss, am in awe.
I’m pretty sure this movie was the first lesbian movie I saw (lesbian movie as in main story is about lesbian love in some way). So in my mind this movie is still like “weird adults doing weird adult things but they look cool”. I would love to read the writer’s review of Dyke Hard (which makes Better than chocolate look like a serious drama in comparison), which is also my favourite queer movie of all time.
dyke hard omg why didn’t my brain go there in the first place
I agree with just about all the individual criticisms and yet…I still love it. All those people are so very ridiculous, it is true, but that feeling of living in a queer little world where you are young and can do stupid things and take risks and feel intensely and also fall into all the stereotypes your own community has about itself rather than the ones other people have of you because the people around you are doing that too–and some moments that feels like your whole world and other moments you get forcibly reminded that it’s really really not and that…is awful and scary and also pushes you in closer on the people who are there in your world–and you love your family of origin but they are also so inconvenient and kind of scary and really quite embarrassing and because you love them you would sort of like to give them a piece of the whole expanded (but tiny) world you are discovering and at the same time kind of want them to just go away and leave you alone. Well…apparently that is a very run-on sentence kind of feeling. The drama and ridiculousness of that experience is turned up a lot higher in the movie than it ever was in my life, but it will probably always bring me back to a Mount Holyoke dorm common room in 2004 with my genderqueer first love (we got married! it’s great!) and our shared dorm room with the pushed-together twin beds just upstairs and our new queer friends scattered all over campus. Which was a very privileged and safe place to be in that moment but…the world was out there and being queer meant you were maybe supposed to dance in it and also that people might try to hurt you if you did.
Also, I have never seen it in any version I’ve watched since, but I could swear in the one we watched in that common room, Carla and the brother didn’t just go out there to have sex, but to try out a butt plug on him and expand his sexual horizons. (Where I grew up, the age of consent-with-an-adult was sixteen, and Carla didn’t seem more than early twenties so it struck me as sort of on the edge, okayness or not depending on details. Which…I can’t remember it well enough to know if I’d approve of the details at this point in time.) That felt like a key scene, because in a way, the movie felt so much about having to share your queer world with other people, some of whom would reject it and be awful, but some of whom might learn something and have richer lives because of it. But the mother using the toys under the bed…yeah… and also so unnecessary–the person they were subletting from was a sex educator who used toys in her classes–she could have so so easily have had unopened ones in that room for Lila to steal. I do like that she gets her own sexual awakening story arc though. As a romance movie, this movie makes noooo sense ( I do hate how Kim thinks she’s entitled to a public declaration of love from Maggie to her mother after three days. That…no.), but I’ve never seen it as a romance movie but as a sex-positivity, community, and the edge-of-adulthood movie. Those things are really where the energy and attention went, not at all into giving Kim and Maggie a believable arc.
I remember the butt plug, too.
Did they censor it out later? Or are we remembering a different movie?
Yes to this whole article. When I watched this movie I had to keep pausing it to just stare into space and be like “What?!?”
This film is THE reason I could never bring myself to go to lesbian bars or get much involved in lesbian culture as a college student in the late 90’s/early 00’s. All the queer girls LOVED this film and thought it was SO CUTE and I just wanted to die. I hated it. ‘Is this what the lesbian community is like?’ my sad baby gay self asked. And the world – through films like this and When Night is Falling – seemingly answered ‘Sorry, kid.’
It seemed like all lesbians did was explore their sacred womynhood and have intimate art sessions where they explore their inner goddesses and shit. Or protested really annoying shit in the least effective ways possible. Or that they wanted to explore womyn only communities and look at their vaginas in mirrors and embrace their physical beings. (The Vagina Monologues were huge at this time.) I mean, that’s great if that’s your bag, but I wanted to hangout with my dude friends and drink beer and makeout with cute girls. Not paint them or workshop our inner divine feminism together.
The ONLY good thing about this film is how they handled the trans storyline and that’s really only great because of how damn early it was in trans representation. Oh, and the fact that the skinheads were so obviously dudes rounded up from the local gay leather bar. That was funny.
Let me please introduce you to the lesbians who play rough sports, get filthy in the outdoors, and make music with loud guitars instead of soft guitars :)
Oh, I found them. It took me some time, but I found them THANK THE HEAVENS!!!!
I am right there with you. I took one look at this and When Night Is Falling and Go Fish, etc., and thought, “Nah, if this is Lesbian, I guess I can’t do Lesbian.”
So really I blame this movie for how long it took me. Yeah, yeah, that sounds right.
I laughed so hard at this, even thiugh I kind of love this movie! It was really the first movie I watched in full that was a queer movie. I was about 14 when it came out and the small video shop nearby carried both this and high art, and I rented both multiple time over the next couple of years! Oddly enough I didn’t even come out to myself for at least another year, so this movie is so wrapped up in my head with realizing that I was a baby lesbian that I can’t ever hate it!
That’s 100% me with DEBS (though I honestly don’t understand how anyone could dislike debs imo)
Debs was great also, are there people who dislike it? I think peoples first gay movie always hold a special place, no matter how bad they were!
First off, this is damn hilarious. The best part was your comment about Anne Wheeler.
I remember watching this as a wee baby lesbian in like 6th grade and HATING it and being v turned off and at first I thought I would read this and have to go and re-watch but now I feel so validated that imma just re-read this and remember how damn weird it was to watch women roll in paint and be terrible artists within an hour of knowing each other
6th grade oh god!
Thank you for the most hilarious recap in the world. Somehow all I remembered was the paint sex and that’s it. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie through your fresh, comedy genius eyes and brain.
But Erin you missed remarking on 2 great lines:
“Better homes and dildos!”
“Goddesses have large, sagging breasts that suckled ungrateful children and deceitful men.”
these were amazing
You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think one of the reasons this movie got so watched is that it wasn’t about coming out, and it wasn’t depressing (in the sense that the characters were not miserable and lonely and sad and alienated and “suffering for their love”).
Also, it was not about a lesbian mom losing custody of her children to a hateful court system.
And the sex did not consist of briefly looking into each others’ eyes and tentatively touching each others’ faces while the camera quickly faded to black.
No one was scared to have sex. Everyone was coming loudly and with abandon.
No one was kept apart by fate, denial, or a cruel, cruel world.
You did not get the feeling that we were being paraded for the male gaze or the cathartic self-congratulation of liberal bystanders.
No one was particularly self-pitying and no one was treated as a “heroic victim”. We were not being made examples of or preached about or made into tragedy.
There were more or less constant examples of mistakes, bullshit, abusers, discrimination, violence… but the center of the movie was on us, not on “them” and all that crap was made insignificant in the end, even though it wasn’t totally ignored. Usually the center of “our” movies was how bad the world is and how we are crushed by it. Finally there was a movie that acknowledged the shitty on the fringes but made our community powerful and the center.
I saw “Better than Chocolate” on a big screen, in an actual movie theater. Until then, the only other comparably/thoroughly lesbian movie that had screened that way in my neck of the woods was Lianna– in 1983– which had a sadness to to joy ratio so crushingly imbalanced that it almost made a person want to become suicidal just to feel more like she could relate to what was shown.
I’m not excusing the ridiculousness of “BtC”… I think it was basically a camp lesbian caper, but compared to the alternatives, it really was more fresh air than not, even if it was ridiculous.
Yes, to all of this!
Oh, Better Than Chocolate. I will admit, the first time I watched it, within five minutes, I thought the exact same thing- “This is the most stereotypically lesbian film ever created, isn’t it?”
With that said, I have a soft spot for it. As Erin and others have mentioned, Judy’s storyline is beautifully handled (honestly, in my opinion, she’s the only character in the movie who’s actually got her shit together). Plus, it’s the only pre-OINTB media that I know of that acknowledges that Trans Lesbians Are A Thing, which definitely counts for something.
(some day, I really want to do a karaoke version of I’m Not a Fucking Drag Queen. That song was perfect).
The other thing that impresses me about the Judy storyline is that Vancouver had/has more TERFS than say, Toronto, and the filmmakers’ decision to include a trans woman who gets a happy ending was subversive in that context.
Ah, yes, Better Than Chocolate. One of the first lesbian movies I ever watched. The movie that got a pass for so long because there were no unhappy endings. Thank you for this recap, it was quite a read.
Whenever I hear someone talk about the need for more happy endings I think of this film, and cringe a bit.
Instead of going to my senior prom, I watched this movie for the gazillionth time and almost had a threesome with my two big deal high school sweeties.
It is a terrible film and has a very special place in my heart.
Aww, Better than Chocolate. This movie is RIDICULOUS. It was kind of a formative experience* for my gf when she was a teenager though, so when I saw it for the first time she got a teeny bit sensitive and defensive when I kept laughing at the SERIOUS scenes. She was all “shhhh, this is romantic” about the SENSUAL NAKED CHOCOLATE GODDESS PAINTING scene. Aww.
The most funny thing about this movie is probably Kim’s hair pin. Was that how you signaled “soft butch” in the 1990s?
*Very formative it appears, as she ended up with a partner (me) who looks a lot like Kim. Lol.
This movie was really horrible. But like most lesbians that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, I would watch or read anything that even hinted at having a lesbian or bisexual character. Regardless of quality. I think beggars can’t be choosers aptly applied for me.
On another note, I legitimately thought I had to be artistic to be a good lesbian.
I watched this movie as a freshman in college and immediately loved it. It was corny in all the best ways. I’m constantly trying to get my friends to love it as much as I do, but that has been unsuccessful so far. Idk, I love Frances and I want to live in that bookstore.
I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT THIS MOVIE UNTIL THIS VERY MOMENT. I had a memory that it wasn’t that bad actually? Thank you for correcting that before I started giving incorrect information about it out into the world. Also, yes, wow, so many drag shows in my early gay career.
This review had me smiling through, just like the movie did the first time I saw it. And the second. Bless.
Erin you are a jem. Fucking hilarious, as per usual.
Erin you are a gem. Fucking hilarious, as per usual.
I could not stop laughing! So many funny parts to this article! Thumbs up to you! I think I might read it again, just to keep the laughter going… :P
This was my VERY FIRST GAY MOVIE that I watched five times the weekend my parents were out of town and I was in the house by myself. I got it from the library!
Yes it was formative, though articulating what exactly- I think just those general things that people my age are like “I will just move to the city and then it will not be hard to get a job at the sex toy store slash bookstore and I will meet some babe and we will make meaningful art and performance art and everyone will be captivated by the disco ball sparkle of our love”
none of those things happened and it was more like broke Americorps volunteer riding bikes/drinking wine at each other’s houses and going to gay dance nights before 10pm to avoid the cover charge.
also, the actress who was the mom is apparently a lesbian now, so says the internet.
This was hysterical! I couldn’t stop smiling while I was reading.
I loved reading this! I watched this when I was first coming out and stopped around that “sex” scene where they are painting each other’s bodies. Even my baby gay brain knew this movie was fucking terrible. Props to sitting through the whole thing. Maybe I’ll be able to stomach it one day in the it’s so bad, it’s good category.
This was fantastic, and exactly like what I remember watching the film in a theatre when it came out in 1999. It was so bad! But there were pretty women having lots of loud sex.
And there was something mesmerizing about watching a film that so adamantly argued for the inclusion of bi and trans women into our community. I’m bisexual, and even though I cringed then at how awful a stereotype Carla was, the film really does 100% argue for her right to be part of the community even and especially while she is having sex with a man. And of course Judy is probably the best character in the whole film.
I can’t think of another 1990s film that did that–I’m not sure I can think of a film that feels equally written for LBT women now–and I can remember a lot that were openly biphobic (like Treyf, ugh ugh ugh) or more subtly so in the way they pushed bi erasure.
Although I did laugh and snicker my way through this, there’s two basically unimportant points I’d like to make: 1, the age of consent in Canada up until a couple of years ago was 14, so on that front at least Carla didn’t do anything wrong. 2, there weren’t many skinheads left in Vancouver by 1999. Most had been driven out into the Interior in the second half of the 90s… and the ones who were left were more or less as depicted in this movie: mostly for show, running away if called out.
I remember I loved Judy, though… until I realised that she was played by Peter Outerbridge and then through the rest of the film I could think only that THAT’S THE EAST GERMAN BOBSLED DRIVER IN COOL RUNNINGS! (Incidentally he also played Bob Corbett in Bomb Girls.)
This review was amazing to read. I laughed so hard that I was bursting into tears. Everything was so on point and true. I admit that I love this movie. It was one of the first lesbian movies I ever saw and it had an effect on me. I still watch it from time to time and mostly enjoy it. Yes, it is a terrible movie but like someone said above, there isn’t a WHOLE LOT of lesbian media of serious quality.
This movie is a goddamn wreck. I was curious if this article could explain to me what I was missing but no. It just validated everything I feel instead. Also an acceptable outcome.
My girl talked about this movie SO MUCH. It was the first lesbian movie she saw, I think, as a young baby queer. She mentioned it early on when we started dating and periodcally, whenever the subject of lesbians in media would come up, she’d bring up again this AMAZING MOVIE SHE LOVED. Finally one day, we sat down and watched it together.
For most of the duration, I made commentary not unlike this article. At the end, as the credits rolled, I turned to her and went “WHY?”
She had no good answer. (Nobody died? They ended up happy? I watched it when I was really young and didn’t realize how terrible it was?)
I’ve just read this while on break at work and it saved me from the deadly boredom which usually hits me 4 hours into a shift (and is partially caused by the fact that it’s an 8 hours shift). It saved me. Ironically, I feel blessed. I laughed hard. I’d never heard of better than chocolate before, maybe that’s why. It also helped me recover from the ‘women almost kissing each other’ posters article.
This is the funniest thing I’ve read in the longest time.
I turned off this movie at the paint sex, which is the earliest I’ve given up on any media since I was 13 and tried to read Twilight but couldn’t get through the scene in the field where Edward stared at Bella for an entire chapter trying not to eat her. I can’t even articulate why I found the paint sex so uncomfortable, other than that I need the lead-up to sex scenes to be believable in order to enjoy them and this…wasn’t.
I’m glad that people got something out this movie, especially from the nascent trans lesbian representation. But I’m even more glad that I was born in the 90s and that this was not my first queer movie.
Why are there sex toys everywhere and aren’t we all completely traumatized by the mom using her daughter’s toys??? I agree someone needs to go to jail in this movie, maybe many people.
Thanks be I found this old post! I laughed until I cried only to stop crying and then start back up again. Wow. This post is the most. Really needed this.