I’m going to preface this review by saying that I think the current upswing in gay and lesbian films is a good thing. More people out there telling stories? Super. More gay and lesbian filmmakers taking chances? Great. Keep striving to produce thought-provoking or fun or dramatic or artsy or sweet films. Bravo. Brava. Way to go.
Having said that, this movie is none of those things. It’s not thought-provoking or fun or dramatic or artsy or sweet, though it makes a valiant, if misguided, attempt at covering all those bases at the same time in a span of just under 80 minutes. The result is a disappointing, choppy, dimly lit and entirely by-the-numbers hybrid of a bad soap opera, a cheesy lesbian romance novel and any number of movies set in that clichéd hot-bed of same-sex action: the all-girls’ high school.
Simone (Diane Gaidry) is an uptight English teacher at a nondescript Catholic girls’ school, whose emotional frigidity is unsubtly manifested in her glasses, crisp white shirt and neatly pulled-back hair. One day, rebellious senator’s daughter Annabelle (Erin Kelly, who out-acts her co-star in every scene they share) is enrolled as a last-ditch effort to straighten her out…pun ever so intended. We know Annabelle is a rebel because she has a nose ring, wears Buddha beads and clunky boots, and has a few wild streaks of color running through her otherwise dark hair. Annabelle is immediately smitten with Simone…though I had to wonder if it was a result of boredom or just slim pickins, ‘cause I wasn’t sold on Simone’s irresistible appeal. Soon, Annabelle’s boring a hole through Simone’s forehead from her desk with the sheer power of her stare, “shocking” teacher and students alike with her tales of past lesbian love and erotic interpretations of required course reading, and coming on soooo strongly that I was fairly certain her middle name had to be Lolita.
Long, boring story short: it becomes a case of Annabelle pursuing a reluctant Simone, complete with far too many scenes of angsty longing, pensive gazing and ridiculous transitional inserts of things like waves crashing on a beach or a gardener watering the lawn or a random lotus floating in a pool of water. The pull of attraction between the two women is strong, so it’s only a matter of time before they give in…but, unfortunately, we have to sit through what feels like endless melodrama-bordering-on-camp while we wait.
I spent much of the film shaking my head in disbelief, both at what was happening onscreen and how it was being presented. My movie-going pal, meanwhile, was perpetually rubbing her temples which, she said afterward, was her way of trying to distract herself from what she was watching because it was that bad. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, multiple times during the film and especially at the Big Tearful Climactic Moment, the audience erupted in laughter. Laughter! This was in a theater with an audience that was, at a minimum, 75% lesbian! People twittered and chuckled and snickered throughout, but anytime the folks onscreen tried to get all heady and serious, outright guffaws echoed.
The screenplay was, for the most part, a cookie-cutter assemblage of clichés, from the characters (the weird girl! the stern nun! the kindly, understanding priest! the clueless boyfriend!) to the leaden, rampantly expository dialogue and the eyeroll-inducing scenarios. Save for newcomer Kelly, who shows real promise and was easily the most talented among the cast, the performances were hollow at best. Not for a second did I believe that Gaidry’s Simone was the kind of woman who would elicit numerous crushes among her straight and gay students, and her line delivery in particular was distractingly wooden. I kept waiting for Annabelle to come to her senses and hook up with one of her far more interesting and available classmates instead, but no.
Annabelle as a whole was also very dark. Literally. I lost count of the number of times I was squinting to try to make out the detail onscreen, which made one scene—where a crucial note is discovered and “shown” to the audience so we can read it and understand a character’s backstory—completely useless. I couldn’t see a word of what was written on that paper, and neither could many other audience members. Was it a suicide note? A Dear John letter? A grocery list? I’m still not 100% sure. (Popular opinion is that it was the first of those three, btw.)
Which brings me to my biggest problem with Loving Annabelle: its ending. Or, more specifically, its substitution of a cop-out-disguised-as-art for an ending. At what would, in any screenwriting class, be considered the film’s second, most devastating “turning point,” the film just… ends. That’s it. Roll credits. What the hell??? Where’s the third act? Was there a sudden loss of funding during shooting, and the ending was deemed scrap-able? “Well, we just lost $100,000, so what can we cut? The porcupine and its wrangler? Nope, too vital. The big school-dance scene? Nope, all movies like this need a school-dance scene. The pointless beach-house sequence? Nah, people like looking at pretty waterfront property. (long dramatic pause) I know! Let’s just lop off the whole final third! Perfect!” I kid you not, by the way: there’s actually a porcupine in this movie. In more than one scene. Seriously.
Now, I’m totally in favor of risky endings, exciting story choices and movies coming to sudden conclusions much to the shock of slack-jawed audience members—in fact, I usually LOVE those. But you cannot expect me to sit through a mind-numbingly formulaic movie and then suddenly slap on an artsy-fartsy, convention-bending ending. That would be like watching Cheaper By the Dozen 2 and then having all the characters speak in Shakespearean verse for the final 10 minutes. Or tacking an experimental-dance number onto the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious. It makes no sense and drives the final nail into the coffin of this movie’s supreme lameness. So, instead of a final act for Annabelle, we’re left with an abrupt fade to black and an onscreen quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke, and that’s supposed to be enough.
With the serious dearth of good lesbian films out there for mass consumption, I had high hopes for Loving Annabelle as a sign of what might be to come as the genre continues to expand. Sadly, it was a huge letdown and forces me to issue the following statement: no matter how desperate moviegoers are for lesbian love stories, just because you can make one, doesn’t mean you should. And just because you still go ahead and make one anyway, doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.
Editor’s Note: We feel for Vickie, we truly do, having sat through our share of bad, bad lesbian cinema—where the only sounds you hear in the theater are the snickers at (not with) the movie, and the ker-thunk of theater seats snapping closed as audiences run for the exits. Sounds like Loving Annabelle joins the hall of shame with other recent lesbian films like April’s Shower, Make A Wish, and The Girl. But Loving Annabelle gets an extra slap on the paw for manipulating us with a sense of familiarity with their marketing. Where have we seen that poster before? Why, the successful art-house movie My Summer of Love—also girl-on-girl themed. And though that movie was not perfect, heck, it was at least tolerable.