Hbo's New 'Walls' Talk Of Lesbians

Posted: March 01, 2000

"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," trilled Mary Poppins in 1964, back before there were any lesbians.

In 2000, HBO uses naked movie stars and hot sex to make its lesbian movie palatable to a wide audience, or at least to one that includes a large voyeur contingent that might not be interested in the feelings, politics and concerns of gay women.

Written and produced entirely by women, If These Walls Could Talk 2 premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. It has a strong roster of stars, even by HBO standards: Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Williams from Dawson's Creek, and Chloe Sevigny from Boys Don't Cry and other serious, offbeat indie flicks.

The film is a variation on the original If These Walls Could Talk, which also featured glittery stars (Demi Moore, Sissy Spacek and Cher). In three separate stories, they played three women living in different decades and dealing with unwanted pregnancies.

In Walls 2, the different women in the three stories have to deal with their homosexuality; they are portrayed compassionately, accurately (so I'm told), and with understanding.

Walls 2 humanizes its subject, showing women who must integrate their sexuality into their lives as well as they can, the same way everybody else does - except that the lesbians must do it within varying contexts of prejudice.

Of course, there were lesbians in the day of Mary Poppins. But, as the first story so sensitively shows, their existence was rarely acknowledged. Redgrave shines as an elderly woman who loses her longtime lover to a stroke in 1961, and then loses her home and most of her possessions to the woman's heir, a nephew.

Her performance, as restrained as her character must be in hiding her relationship, is elegant, nuanced and thoroughly affecting.

Cut to 1972. A group of gay college gals share the house. One falls for a motorcycle-riding ultra-butch woman she meets at the mysterious bar on the edge of town, and she is ostracized for not fitting the politically pushy, female-affirming hippie brand of lesbianism espoused by the others.

The piece substitutes sex for some of the subtlety of its predecessor, but Williams, at 19, still shows she is ready to leave the Katie Holmeses and Jennifer Love Hewitts of the world behind. This is serious stuff, a long way from Dawson's Creek.

"It's really rare in this profession that you come across something that has the opportunity to make a change, to make a difference, and to alter somebody's perception," Williams told TV critics in January. "It's rare, and it's beautiful, and I would jump at it anytime."

Big star Stone and leading lesbian DeGeneres pretty much bluff their way through the final story, which is supposed to be a comedy, set in the present. In the piece, written by DeGeneres' partner, Anne Heche, they play a couple trying to have a baby.

The words are tender, and the behavior domestic. Though the pair convey little real emotion, the very ordinariness allows the story to exude humanity and demonstrate the folly of discrimination.

comments powered by Disqus