When it came time for me to spin the wheel for our Lost Movie Archives project, I landed on The Truth About Jane. I’ve always thought it was kind of weird that this movie won so many awards when it landed on Lifetime in 2000 — Outstanding TV Movie by GLAAD, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries (for Channing) by the Screen Actors Guild, and Original Long Form by the Writer’s Guild — but that the only people in the world who’ve ever seen it are Drew and Riese and my wife Stacy.
But after watching it, it’s obvious why: The Truth About Jane was, for 2000, a revolutionary movie that pulled no punches when it came to villainizing homophobic parents, but it’s a movie for homophobic parents that feels archaic in 2020, which is actually a very good thing — especially when you consider the fact that some of our still most beloved and resonant lesbian, bisexual, and queer TV is from the early aughts (Buffy, Degrassi, South of Nowhere, The Wire, The L Word). It’s also not a “movie” as much as it’s a “90-minute PSA” that packs in every 2000s thing you can think of when it comes to gay after school specials. At one point, near the end of the film, Jane’s like “Wow, it’s been a rough two weeks.” And Stacy and I, in unison, yelled, “TWO WEEKS?” at the TV. So much stuff had happened to her by that point it felt like two years. And, of course, the dialogue isn’t exactly elegant — though there is one deeply quotable moment when Jane’s lesbian teacher asks her what’s wrong and Jane says, “I’m gay and everyone hates me!!!!!!”
The Truth About Jane goes like this: Jane (Ellen Muth) is the apple of her parents’ eye from the moment she’s born, and they have big plans for her, especially her mom, Stockard Channing, who wants them to be best friends forever. They have a second child named Brad or Ned or something, but they don’t really care for him, and at one point he calls Jane a dyke and she reaches over, pulls him across the kitchen table, knocks all the dinner and dishes onto the floor, and beats the heck out of him. And her parents are like, “Ned, go to your room! No dinner!” He limps away with a bloody head and everyone’s like “fucking Ned.”
Anyway, Jane gets a new classmate named Taylor (Alicia Lagano) who wears Docs and leans on stuff in a bisexual way. Jane crushes on Taylor, dumps all her old friends, spends every second with Taylor, has sex with Taylor, sneaks out and gets drunk with Taylor, gets dumped by Taylor, and spirals into a depression about Taylor, Taylor Taylor Taylor. Jane’s English teacher (it’s always the English teacher) has that one Meg Ryan haircut (you know the one) and is also Kelly “Kirsten Cohen” Rowan, mother of Seth Cohen from the O.C., and she clocks Jane’s lesbianism because she also is a lesbian. She helps Jane deal with her broken heart and also with Stockard Channing, who turns into an absolute nightmare monster the second Jane’s comes out, even though her best friend is literally RuPaul. (RuPaul tag teams with the English teacher for elder gay support for Jane.) Stockard Channing manages to turn everyone against her, including her own husband, because she is behaving like such a jackass. She tries to attend a PFLAG meeting but she can’t even do the part where she’s like, “I’m Stockard Channing and my daughter is a lesbian” and everyone claps. (BTW, is that real?)
Ultimately, though, both RuPaul and the English teacher convince Stockard Channing that Jane’s actual life will be in danger if she keeps this shit up, and so Stockard Channing goes to a Pride parade and learns to love her gay child. (Even though she still is apathetic toward Brad.)
There’s actually something really soothing about watching this film in 2021, even though it’s a slog. It seems like it was made in an entirely different world, and it kind of was. The only gay thing on TV when The Truth About Jane was released was Ellen’s coming out and some guest characters who always ended up dead or broken-hearted. Lesbian and gay equality — trans equality wasn’t even on the broad LGBTQ+ radar at the time — was under constant attack by the Republican Party, with marriage equality and gay adoption and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell coming up in every debate from top to bottom in political campaigns across the country. Lesbian and gay Americans were the cultural scapegoats of the moment. 2000 was as close to the AIDS crisis as it was to President Obama speaking out in support of marriage equality. It would have been an impossible dream when Jane was released to think that in 20 years, there’d be too much LGBTQ+ TV for one website to cover, that celebrities would just be casually coming out right and left on something like TikTok, that the President of the United States would name his support of LGBTQ+ Americans in stump speeches across the nation, that RuPaul would own an empire.
But here we are. We’ve come so far.
But one thing does remain the same: Lesbians can fall in love, propose marriage, break up, sink into depression, and then fall in love all over again in a span of less than one month. That particular truth about Jane is eternal.
In Lost Movie Reviews From the Autostraddle Archives we revisit past lesbian, bisexual, and queer classics that we hadn’t reviewed before, but you shouldn’t miss. Want more movies? Check out Autostraddle’s 200 Best Lesbian Movies of All Time.