Better than Chocolate

Director: Anne Wheeler

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Better than Chocolate (1999) is a film that relies wholeheartedly on stereotyping, & makes the stereotypes so wonderfully goofy & amusing that viewers love them, therefore it might actually be safe for a gay daughter to take mom & grandma (but not dad) to see it, in order to convince them that daughter's choice may be unexpected, but a good life can be had even so.

Better than ChocolateThe central lovers of this romantic comedy are the only ones who are not loopy. Underlying the seeming "fun" is this film's nasty autobiographical assumption, "Everyone in the gay community is freaky nutso except me & my lover." I've met this kind of blithe spoiled bratty person time & again, intelligent enough to know the world is full of insanity, not smart enough to see they're no better than the rest.

So Better than Chocolate constructs a myth of normal, intelligent, artistic, aware, & mainstream-beautiful if slightly role-playing butch & femme lesbians who are so sweet & liberal they are, wowwy, capable of caring about outright freaks. It's a case of "some of my best friends are" while always making it clear "but I'm not personally a freak."

But even the gay community often enough has mainstream tastes & views itself as does Better Than Chocolate's feel-good stereotyping. So this is apt to be just the right degree of entertainment for some, gay or straight.

The "normal" lesbians are Maggie (Karyn Dwyer looking like a Bottecelli angel & about as much acting range too) & her mildly tomboyish girlfriend Kim (Christina Cox) who is a travelling artist who immediately moves into Maggie's apartment to settle down after they've known each other a few hours. Alas, this instant-housekeeping is badly timed because newly divorced mom (Wendy Crewson) & baby brother (Kevin Mundy) are knocking at the front door needing a place to stay, & Maggie is still closeted to her family.

Mom is a frigid controlling cretin who gave up her love of the arts to be a housewife, which ultimately ended her all alone, yet she remains convinced her semi-artistic daughter Maggie is wasting her life by not dressing to attract a boyfriend or at least going to college to become a lawyer. This well-meaning but misguided mom is destined to become liberated from her unhappiness when she discovers vibrating dildoes.

Brother is seventeen years old, not quite legal for the local number one bisexual girl super-perv to turn into her main squeeze, all bisexual women being, of course, predatory by nature. Horny minor seduced by child molesting bisexual is supposed to be a good thing, by the way.

Maggie works at the bookstore run by a miniature diesel dyke who admits she's only ever had three lovers in her life, & they were thick-glasses boy-haircut nurdy politicos like herself.

Judy/Jeremy (Peter Outerbridge) is the very suburban transvestite-like crossdresser pretending to be transexual & offended to be regarded a dragqueen despite performing in a drag show, with a perpetual five o'clock shadow, a whiny disposition which is supposed to be feminine, though like most sissies, capable of delivering a pretty good punch if it comes down to a fistfight.

Judy's in love with the dyke Frances (Ann-Marie MacDonald) who runs the bookstore. Since both of them are kindly dorks, they do fall in love, & this is a very charming genderfuck side-romance, though the film never wants you to forget that freaks are basically clownish & we should all be kind to our good friends the freaks. They're never actually sexy.

Tom (Tony Nappo) is the straight Italian guy who runs the coffeeshop next door to the lesbian bookstore, liked by everyone despite that he kicks dykes out of his shop when he catches them kissing. He'll provide the promise of Mom's happy ending with more than a vibrator. At least the script can be proud that even the straight people are shallow stereotypes.

The main romance between Maggie & Kim is treated as passionate, sexy, endearing, healthy, artful, & worthy of camera close-ups. Everyone who is actually eccentric (or stereotyped) is treated as likeable friendly ain't-they-cute jokes. The script remains cloying & earnest about the central romance, which has only one comical moment, when the girls decide to have public toilet sex.

Set in Vancouver, B.C., the lesbian bookstore is having trouble getting books about lesbians across the border from the USA. Costoms even refuses to let a special ordered children's book, Little Red Riding Hood, into the country, & the bookstore might not survive the ongoing governmental hindrance.

Maggie eventually decides that the best way to protest prejudice against lesbian books is to stand naked in the bookshop window alone after hours, with a sign that says "pervert" taped to her vagina. But then gets all upset when boys stand outside making dirty comments. She's not only vapid, but actively ignorant. Since even the scriptwriter knew this was assinine, it had to be amped up for more meaning.

Striving uselessly to give the film climactic punch by playing the "we're all victims" card, the nasty boys return with molotov cocktails & blow up the bookstore with our dim heroine still naked in the shattering window. Happily no one is hurt & everyone finds love, so it'll be all right. Maggie standing naked beside shattering glass then walking barefoot through the shards never gets a scratch.

This is a shitty, subliminally homophobic self-hating film posing as lightweight lesbian-feminist comedy. It is funny because stereotypes can be a laugh riot. I can't suppress a smile when I see old Jasper cartoons & everything Jaspers wants in this life is watermelons from his mammy. There is just barely enough truth to stereotypes that it is easy to embrace the comedy as one's own. But for a film that pretends to be in part about bigotry & censorship, the only serious moment in the whole damned film is when a crazy dyke gay-bashes the wouldbe-transexual-actually-a-transvestite for being in the lady's can.

Though I disliked this assinine movie, others have liked it hugely, & for both moments of comedy & for the central love story, it's understandable that many would find something to greatly enjoy, despite that I personally found the film loathsome.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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