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FRISKY ROMANTIC COMEDY EXCLUDES NO ONE.

Byline: Stephen Holden The New York Times

What could be more delicious than chocolate? Why sex, of course, preferably combined with dreamy romantic love. And in Anne Wheeler's giddy, occasionally dopey but extremely good-hearted comedy ``Better Than Chocolate,'' which opened Friday, that combination comes in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins ice cream, with an array of mechanical accessories thrown in to provide extra pleasure for everyone, even those without partners.

If it weren't so deliriously frisky, the movie, which follows the erotic adventures of a group of Canadian women and one young man in a bohemian town in British Columbia, might have had the haranguing tone of a tract preaching sexual tolerance and diversity. But the movie gushes with so much romantic optimism and good humor that it has the effervescence of an engaging musical comedy in which girl meets girl, girl loses girl and girl gets girl back, multiplied by three.

The main character, Maggie (Karyn Dwyer), is an attractive 19-year-old college dropout who holds jobs as a clerk in a women's bookstore and a dancer in a lesbian bar that is the movie's social center. Early in the movie, Maggie falls in love at first sight with Kim (Christina Cox), a sleek, penniless street artist and body painter who is drifting around the West Coast in her van.

Having met her true love, Kim decides to stay with Maggie for a while in her subleased apartment. No sooner has she settled in than Maggie's mother, Lila (Wendy Crewson), telephones from back East to announce she's getting divorced and coming for a visit along with Maggie's teen-age brother, Paul (Kevin Mundy). Since Maggie hasn't told her mother she's gay, this presents problems.

Meanwhile, Judy (Peter Outerbridge), a gentle, transgendered lesbian nightclub singer, pines for Frances (Ann-Marie MacDonald), the bookstore's shy, owlish owner. In one of several cabaret songs that punctuate the film, Judy delivers an anthem in which she proclaims that she is not a drag queen and makes a forceful distinction between people like her and gay men who dress up as women.

Once Lila and Paul arrive, Maggie tries absurdly to conceal the truth about her relationship with Kim. Her adamant refusal to come out to her mother seriously threatens her new relationship. Lila, who functions as the movie's likable but clueless square, finds her own sexual salvation in a box of sex toys she discovers under her daughter's bed. Meanwhile, Paul is pursued by Maggie's bisexual coworker, Carla (Marya Delver).

If now and then ``Better Than Chocolate'' tries to generate some serious drama, its heart just isn't in it. In one subplot the life of the bookstore is threatened when a shipment of lesbian erotica is impounded at the Canadian border. But instead of grappling with the issue of censorship, the movie jokes about how ``Little Red Riding Hood'' is one of the books in the shipment. Late in the movie a band of gay-bashing skinheads appears out of nowhere to stir up trouble. But the movie's one scene of real violence is over almost before it begins.

For all the real problems faced by its characters, ``Better Than Chocolate'' is finally a comic rhapsody to romantic love, the possibility of happily ever after within an all-accepting subculture. For everyone there's a someone, it insists. And once you have found her, never let her go.

THE FACTS

The film: ``Better Than Chocolate'' (not rated).

The stars: Wendy Crewson, Karyn Dwyer, Christina Cox, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Marya Delver, Kevin Mundy and Peter Outerbridge.

Behind the scenes: Directed by Anne Wheeler. Written by Peggy Thomson. Produced by Sharon McGowan and Thomson. Released by Trimark Pictures.

Running time: One hour, 43 minutes.

Playing: United Artist Warner Center in Woodland Hills, Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, Landmark's Rialto in South Pasadena.

Our rating: Three stars.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Kim (Christina Cox, left) and Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) meet up in ``Better Than Chocolate.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Aug 14, 1999
Words:652
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