The Opposite of Sex (18)

Directed by Don Roos
Starring Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow, Martin Donovan, Lyle Lovatt

Brilliant black comic drama featuring about the best of the juvenile actresses around today- the ever wonderful Christina Ricci as a scheming self-centred teenage gold digger, Deedee. She is the epitome of a girl behaving badly as she heads to her gay half brother's house as the film opens. She proceeds to seduce his dumb young stud of a boyfriend and the pair run off together, pursued by her half brother Bill(Donovan), and Lucia (Kudrow) and the town sheriff, Lyle Lovatt. From there, events escalate to include pregnancy, attempted extortion, and manslaughter! At the heart of the shenanigans is Deedee, but what makes the film so enjoyable is the beautifully developed characters and a witty script. Ricci stars but Friends' Lisa Kudrow is the real revelation here. There is none of Phoebe's dippiness, instead Kudrow is a rather improbably spinsterish and sharp teacher whose life revolves around Bill, who was her brother's lover before he died of AIDS. The film is as much about Lucia's rediscovery of herself than it is about Deedee. She gets a lot of the best and most cynically funny lines, and Kudrow's comic timing is impecable. A subplot pairing her off with the craggy sheriff Lyle Lovatt didn't really work for me. Aside from the fact he is the strangest looking man around- goodness knows what Julia Roberts saw in him!- he is way out of his depth acting wise with Ricci, Kudrow and perenial nice guy Martin Donovan. Lovatt's wooden performance irritated me. However, he was certainly the exception, the supporting cast were uniformly excellent.
The film has a narration from Ricci as Deedee; the cynical put downs and mean spirited but funny observations from her add to the fun as we follow the well meaning but dull Bill and Lucia as they attempt to keep up with lively and recklessly hedonistic Deedee. Occasionally, the film does stray into genuine drama. For instance, Kudrow remembers a lonely childhood and happier times with her beloved brother, Bill and Lucia argue over whether sex is all its cracked up to be and the childbirth sequence near the end are largely played straight. Other dramatic sounding parts are much more light heartedly portrayed. Deedee's step-father's funeral that opens the film decend into farce as she chain smokes through it and kicks furniture into his grave before stalking off; Bill is hounded by the press after being accused of molesting a student and Lucia recognises a former pupil among the reporters; even the shooting of one of the characters is only semi-seriously portrayed. This offbeat sense of humour is a lot of fun, and thankfully the film manages to avoid the maudlin sentimentality that is common in some US comedies.
A great ensemble cast, a darkly comic script all held together by the wonderfully original character of Deedee Truitt, a trailer trash Machiavelli for the 21st century! 9/10

January 1999

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