Well, we’re back for another lesbian classic. I’m sure we’re all still cranked from the success of our last lesbian classic, I Can’t Think Straight. Well, all of us except Autostraddle reader, Sally, who called for a recount. It’s good to have your lived truth checked every now and again. Still, my offer stood: an edible arrangement for writer and director Shamim Sharif. She seemed down, but when I followed up with where I could send it, she directed me to an email address, and so I’m not totally sure Shamim knows how Edible Arrangements works.
When I was looking for what movie I’d review next, I remembered a movie that kept coming up in the comments of a past lesbian classic review: Everything Relative. And readers, while I understand part of the fun of this series is finding the bad ones to review, this suggestion feels especially hurtful. What have I done besides probably offend every single one of you at some point?
This 1996 movie written and directed by Sharon Pollack is about a group of college friends who reunite decades later for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods, and I would love to tell you something else happens in this movie. I would love nothing more than to tell you that a group of gay women took to chaining themselves to their local co-op to save it from foreclosure which inspired a pop-up street fundraiser concert featuring K.D. Lang that turned into a city-wide Dykes on Bikes parade. But nothing else besides “a group of college friends who reunite decades later for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods” happens in this movie.
Let’s get into this riveting story.
OK, let’s just get this out of the way: the senseless stunting of the phrase “Everything’s relative” to name this movie Everything Relative will plague me for the rest of my life. Everything relative. You know, what everyone says. “You know what they say, everything relative!” Saying or reading this movie’s title makes my chest tight, like my breath is being restricted. I want to correct it. Everything Relative, I’m Sorry, I Misspoke, Everything’s Relative.
Fun fact, this review sat on my desktop titled “Everthing-Related,” for days without me noticing, which, when you think about it, why not, right? Sort of feels like this is how words work here. Everything Relates. Everything’s Retail. Anything Relative. Pretty embarrassment of me. Hopefully you’ll understanding though. Pleeb.
Opening the movie is a group call between old friends. We’ve got a woman who looks like Laura Dern if Laura Dern leaned so far into some of her characters’ queer subtext that she sort of barrel rolled out of her chair onto the floor. This is Victoria, and she explains she wants the old gang to get together for her son’s bris. On the other ends of the line are Lucy, a woman in a sports bra and work out shorts who’s moving around like she’s just done some sort of upper, and Maria, a woman who sits alone in her kitchen and responds to the news of her friend’s baby with, “That’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard.” Ever?
And by the looks of her face, I believe it. Look at that. That’s the face I would give after hanging up with Publisher’s Clearing House after they called to tell me I’d won their sweepstakes even though I’d never signed up and would receive monthly installments of ten thousand dollars via a comically large check, and also that my whole family had been murdered under mysterious circumstances.
Maria also seems deeply troubled by this phone call. I suspect that she, too, worries her whole family has been murdered under mysterious circumstances, and that Publisher’s Clearing House is in some way involved.
We’re at the bris for Victoria and Katie’s baby and there’s a lot of full body embracing. Another friend, Josie, walks in and it’s clear that she and Maria were once a thing. Josie has on some kind of We Are the World quilted blazer situation happening. Katie, looks at Maria and says, “You gonna be okay?” and then, with the fear of someone who’s just seen a ghost, Maria slinks off screen while somehow both nodding and shaking her head at the same time. Maria! Girl, you alright?
Another friend, Gina, pulls up outside at seven o’clock, on the dot, she’s in her drop top cruising the streets! Gina’s look is definitely A Look, and by the way she interacts with Maria – who’s apparently tried to pull off an Irish Goodbye (from someone’s baby’s bris?) – I can already tell Gina’s supposed to be the group’s heartbreaker.
They head back inside and the whole crew’s finally there. Lucy introduces her new young thing, Candy, to the group, and someone side-mouths, “How old is she?” Doesn’t matter, they’re going to the old cabin!
We’ve got some soft instrumental guitar ushering in a scene where the gals pack up their cars outside. Josie says, “What does a lesbian bring on a second date?” and everyone goes, “A U-Haul!” I’m wondering if this was the first ever mention of that joke caught on film. Outside, Lucy and Candy explain how long they’ve been dating, which is two weeks. I can’t see this particular new couple dynamic between a woman in her mid to late 30s and a baby 23 year old going too smoothly on a trip with six other women who’ve been friends for decades, but Candy’s being used as a prop to establish for the audience how all of these women know each other, so hold on tight, baby!
Gina explains that they met in college in a political class that was, “Half black women, half white, with Maria somewhere in the middle.” Everyone laughs at this? OK! Gonna go ahead and take a stab in the dark and assume that Sharon Pollack isn’t a woman of color. Candy, who laughs at the word “feminist,” is clearly out of her depth here, and I wish her nothing but the worst of luck.
On the road everyone’s talking about how they’ve all either dated or slept with each other. Someone asks Maria when the last time she saw Josie was and she says, “The day I left,” and leaves it at that. Maria is killing me. In the midst of the hookup breakdown for Candy, Lucy mentions a woman named Sonya. Sonya, Gina explains, was “one of [them]” but died when she was 21. As Josie reaches back to comfort an obviously affected Lucy, Gina blasts on the radio like, “Whewwww, let’s party!” Hahaha, hey, eerie mention of an old friend, but road trip! Life goes on without us all.
Let’s assess the outfits here. Honestly, not mad at any of them. However, the music in this movie so far is a special kind of terrible. It’s like a mashup between elevator music and the part of a Cymbalta commercial when someone finally stops looking out the window at clouds and starts living life again.
They stop at the store for snacks and booze, and as they shop Victoria asks Maria how often she talks to “Rubin” and how often she “sees the kids.” The hysterical crying at the beginning of the movie when Victoria invited Maria to her baby’s bris is making a lot of sense now.
Candy follows up with Lucy about Sonya in the liquor store, because what an offering up of information without any follow through, and Lucy explains that Sonya died in a car crash. In a car that Lucy was driving. A-yiiiiikes.
While the rest of the crew wait outside, we learn that there is A Straight in the ranks. It’s Sarah, the woman in a long tie-dyed dress and a sensible watch with a leather band. Sure! An older lady comes up to them and is like wow what’s with all the ladies!!! “Obviously, you’re not all related,” she says, and then Katie says, “Everything’s relative.” Or, when you really think about it, everything relative.
Once they get to the cabin, an unpacking montage set to, yes, Ani Difranco’s “Overlap,” begins. Gina’s packed the essentials: a book called The Dance of Intimacy and a Hitatchi vibrator. In the other rooms, Katie and Veronica kiss, Maria brushes her hair, and Josie looks longingly over her books.
At dinner they cheers to being together one last time before Victoria’s and Katie’s life changes forever. I have nothing mean to say about this nice moment except for the fact that I think it’s weird it was shot from a bird’s eye view.
They move outside after dinner for a fire and Candy goofs again when she congratulates Katie and Victoria on being the only ones out of the group to have children. With the air of a king anointing a knight, Victoria says, “Maria’s a mother.” Then Candy asks Victoria and Katie if they’ve thought about how hard it would be for the baby to have two moms, and it’s like you kind of want to be mad at Candy, but also you kind of want to see what kind of foolishness is coming next. Also, no offense, but Maria is a bummer. I’m sorry! Whenever she references her ex-husband or her children or anything vaguely to do with “the past,” she either storms out of a room or cries.
Alright, the acoustic guitar’s out, which is the lesbian equivalent of cigars being passed around for boys’ night out. Party’s offish. *slaps somebody’s butt then punches them also* The ladies are singing a How I Came Out song and Candy neutralizes this situation by drinking straight out of a champagne bottle. They’re all adding onto each other’s lyrics line by line as the song goes on and then Lucy busts out, “Let’s not forget all those young queers who committed suicide.” Ah, yes, I know that’s the last thing I want to forget when I’m trying to relax with friends who are just trying to remember the good old days via song and enjoy a nice weekend trip away from all of my cares.
As everyone goes to their respective rooms for bedtime, the screen adopts a blue hue and we begin to hear sad piano music. In one room that definitely ain’t Gina’s, people are having sex! There’s a baby crying from another room and Straight Sarah rubs her ovaries. In the another room, Lucy asks Candy if she’s really a Republican. Maria’s in her room crying of course. Victoria paces her and Katie’s room trying to calm their baby. Things that go bump in the night, eesh!
Oh look, there’s a lady with dark secret outside. Kidding, it’s Maria. Josie approaches and we find out that Maria chose a marriage and children over her. Josie doesn’t blame her. It’s “water under the bridge” Maria says, which is the third time someone’s said this phrase in 40 minutes. Forty minutes. This movie defies time.
That’s all that this secrecy and tension and low key panic have been about? A fairly common thing that happens even now? You’re telling me that Maria just appeased her family rather than following her heart and is now divorced/split from her children and isn’t on the run from the law under a false identity for starting and embezzling from a Ponzi scheme that destroyed the lives of a vulnerable retirement community? Could have fooled me! Just checked and this scene is six minutes long. Let me tell you something: if you’re going to make viewers watch SIX MINUTES of a sparsely packed conversation between two people who are standing shoulder to shoulder, this DVD should come with a crisp 20 dollar bill.
Everyone survived the sad blue world from the night before and woke up to a beautiful morning! Lucy’s made Candy leave because Candy obviously sucks, Victoria comes out to breakfast in a stunning knee length khaki short/blouse/tube sock combo, and Gina and Katie decide to go for a swim in the lake. On their way down, Gina asks how Katie knew Victoria was “the one.” Then Katie says the most romantic thing: “There comes a time when you realize you gotta just hang in there and work it out with someone.” Sounds like a blast!
They run into Lucy at the lake and Gina likes what she sees! The camera mimics Gina’s once-over and we pan slowly up Lucy’s entire body to reveal a two piece Speedo. Gina and Lucy have a little back and forth about Lucy’s loud sex from the night before and then they enjoy some nice time on the water.
Hey, here’s a real question I have: Is anything going to happen in this movie? Can someone decide they should all try PCP and then go into town trying to play it cool? Can everyone just start making out with each other? Can somebody find a shed full of money and realize they need to leave immediately like they never saw anything?
Well, they do decide to go into town but completely sober. Lucy wears just a sports bra and jean shorts. Josie and Maria head off on their own to do some window shopping and have another fun conversation about, guess what? Water’s location in relation to bridges. Four (4) mentions so far. Josie keeps hammering away at the fact that Maria wanted the house, husband, and the “2.2” kids.
Maria counters by saying that Josie never answered her letters way back when. Wow, the drama here. Josie says, “I wanted to know that your heart was broken into a million tiny little pieces, because mine was.” And then a comet hits earth. Kidding, no, they’re just walking down a street again.
Let’s play ball! Everyone’s chasing each other and fake tackling each other and playing tricks on each other and all-in-all just having a gay old time. Then there’s a dog pile! What fun this softball game has turned out to be.
Now we’re taking a break in the grass and talkin’ ’bout family and religion. Other topics include: Families and gays. Parents preferring a lesbian daughter or a daughter who’s a “hoe.” Parents always being disappointed. (A thing about me is I love to value my time, which is why I’m continuing to watch whatever this is. This movie is like visual Zoloft in that I haven’t worried about anything while watching it but I also haven’t felt alive either.) Someone asks, “Do you ever feel like you’re living the wrong life?” and it’s like, currently, yes.
Cut to a montage of the rest of their day at the park. They’re rolling down hills, they’re climbing trees and they’re going for dips in the water. Gays: they’re just like us! Something else you can count on gay people doing just like straights is crying in public during a social outing, something Straight Sarah’s currently doing because she thinks her not being able to get pregnant is punishment for working at Planned Parenthood.
Gina finds Lucy visiting the Dead Sonya tree. Gina notes that everyone’s a disappointment compared to Dead Sonya. Gina’s like, not to channel the Indigo Girls or anything, but you’re in love with a ghost, Lucy. Gina goes on to say that people who are alive get to disappoint and leave you and dead people can’t. The tension that’s been growing between Gina and Lucy all move is hitting some Mariah Carey whistle notes.
I ask Riese how much time is left and she says 40 minutes.
Now we’re back at the house for a nighttime strum and sing. As quickly as Gina brings our her vibrator to sing into it like a microphone comes a conversation about Victoria’s refusal to be out in public, and as quickly as that conversation develops comes a comment about Jews refusing to deny their heritage in the face of the Nazis. Oh perfect, I was wondering when someone was going to mention the Holocaust for no real reason.
Because the rest of the conversation is handled with the exact same kind of finesse, Katie’s eventually just like, “Let’s all go down to the lake and light some candles,” which is maybe the most lesbian solution to drama I’ve ever heard. Someone says, “We’re not all going to drown ourselves are we?” and honestly, at least it would be an ending we’d all be talking about.
Their lighted candles for loved ones are being pushed away “to sea” from where they all sit on the dock. Gina starts singing again and I can’t help but laugh. Gina! That’s so like you. Everyone joins in to harmonize while they watch the flames sneak away.
Okay, I don’t know what happened in five minutes but now Josie is naked and sitting alone on the dock? Maybe they did take PCP. Maria shows up on the bank across from where Josie sits on the dock and they have a conversation that for the fifth goddamn time in this movie uses the phrase “water under the bridge.” If Maria and Josie don’t have sex on this dock I’m going for a sprint down the road in nine degree fahrenheit weather. Oh, then there’s a full nude shot of Maria slowly slipping into the water.
Gina and Lucy look like they’re making out on the deck where they were justing dancing together, but they’re actually not, they’re just sort of hovering close to each other’s faces in between hugging and waving their hands in front of each other. Everyone’s got their thing I guess.
Maria made it safely to the dock (thank god) and Josie continues to sit like she’s a child who got lost at a carnival and is waiting for an adult to find her. They start making out and Josie is actively crying. You know, if this is what I thought lay in wait for me as a gay woman, who’s to say if I’d be writing here on this very website!
Now everyone’s having sex, which I did suggest earlier, but all the pairings are between people who you’d think, “Hmmm, I don’t know if I can picture them having sex!” but come to life, and spoiler alert, it’s as weird having that come to life as you’d imagine!
The next morning everyone’s got that glow that comes from crossing a bunch of boundaries amongst friends. When Straight Sarah comes out for breakfast she immediately doubles back to the sink to get sick. We know this means Straight Sarah’s pregnant as all get out, and someone asks if that means they get to see each other again in nine months. If I learn that there’s a sequel to this movie I’ll do my very best to sit through what I assume is a four hour movie in a hospital lobby.
Yayyy, now we’re showing everyone packing. Special ending to a special movie. Who says lesbians don’t know how to have fun!
As everyone is saying their goodbyes, it seems the two heartbreakers, Gina and Lucy, have finally bested each other. They know they’ll see each other again, whether East comes West or West comes East. Josie and Maria try and wrap up whatever it is that draws them together, things that are certainly not emotional or body chemistry, but it seems they will live permanently in a grey area for four to six minute increments until one or both of them dies.
We’re back where the bris was held earlier in the weekend, and because the old ladies who were in attendance are still there, I’m worried they never left. All weekend like, “It keeps getting dark and then light again?”
Katie asks her grandmother if she wants to hold her great grandson, and I swear to you in that moment the woman who’s playing the grandmother forgets she’s in a movie because she looks directly into the camera. She’s just happy to be holding a baby even though it seems like the people around her are acting a little strange, like they’re rehearsing for a play.
Then Sharon Pollack out-Pollack’s herself and ends the movie with this:
What can I say? This movie has a beginning, middle, and end. It has characters who have dialogue. There was a setting. It is “a classic” insofar as time has passed since its release and “classics” are contingent on a passage of time.
But ultimately this movie feels like someone’s asked you, “Hey, do you want to see some videos I took on my phone of my friends on a trip?” And you go, “Hm, did anything happen?” And it says, “No, it’s just some videos of conversations that you’re not a part of in any way.” So then you’re like, “I’m okay, but thank you,” and it’s like, “But what if I told you it’s over an hour long?” So then you respond, “Well, that sounds worse actually, and also I barely want to watch my own videos of people I know that I thought were funny at the time, so you could see where this feel like a bad idea,” and it follows up with, “Yes, but I’ve set it to terrible music.”
This movie will persist despite itself, no matter how hard you fight, until the end of time. Or beginning, because time is relative. Just like… everything.