The Wallflower

When is a movie about two women in love not "lesbian" enough? Ask Dallas filmmakers Gretchen and Julia Dyer, whose embattled indie gem Late Bloomers finally makes it to the national screen.

"Shortly after that, we attended a ceremony for two female friends in Austin. It took place under a canopy in someone's backyard. One set of parents had threatened to boycott, but at the last minute, they showed up--these older, strait-laced people who'd put aside lifelong prejudices to stand by their daughter. In the middle of the event, rain came down like crazy. But that may have been the most beautiful wedding I'd ever been to. These women didn't have a church or a judge to support what they were doing, but that seemed to give the event even more importance. They couldn't afford to take the idea of marriage for granted."

Gretchen, the writing half of the duo, immediately began to mull over a story in which the impending nuptials of two women scandalize the townspeople who thought they knew them.

"It was our intention from the start to make a movie not about urban lesbian culture, but two women who'd assimilated into the mainstream," Julia insists. "You know, the people who get up every morning at seven, put on their lipstick and pantyhose, maybe even drive their kids to school, and go to the office. These women are lesbians, too."

Alonso Duralde, artistic director of the USA Film Festival, thinks the sheer ordinariness of the lives portrayed in Late Bloomers is what makes it so refreshing. He held a bon voyage preview right before the Dyers took the film to Sundance, then screened it at last year's festival. Duralde himself is gay.

"It was thrilling to see a movie where the main characters actually have to work for a living," Duralde explains. "They aren't fashionably unemployed, or mysteriously upscale. These women also aren't lesbians with a capital 'L.' They live in a suburban milieu among mostly straight people. We like to talk about how the gay and lesbian community is a patchwork, but the Dyers have actually visited a corner of the blanket where few filmmakers tread."

Which leads to a question--just how "lesbian" are the women in Late Bloomers? The "L" word is mentioned only one time in the film's script, although neither of the two leads refers to herself as one. Late Bloomers was lesbian enough so that Gretchen and Julia were compelled to hoodwink by omission and obfuscation the three Dallas schools, including one private religious institution, where they filmed; to this day, they won't reveal those locations. Lesbian enough so that a few otherwise enthusiastic local heterosexual investors specifically requested their names not be included among the end credits. Then again, not so lesbian that one self-identified lesbian who considered investing in the project declined because neither filmmaker chooses to describe herself as one. But Alonso Duralde scoffs at the notion of applying a litmus test to a film's gayness.

"Look, we've got a lot of catching up to do," he says. "You see quite a few gay and lesbian movies being released today, but they're still a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of popular cinema. Many stories that need to be told still haven't been."

Robert Redford's ultrahyped Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, certainly isn't shy about showcasing some of those stories. Last year, when Gretchen and Julia's film was accepted for competition, both filmmakers were interviewed for a segment that aired on ABC World News Tonight about the proliferation of movies by and about women who love women.

There may, indeed, have been a glut; the Dyers describe their film as not exactly generating a buzz, but not being ignored, either. Duralde, who attended his second Sundance last year, confirmed, "The best place to hear the vox populi was on the bus rides between screenings, and people who saw Late Bloomers really praised it." But considering how often words like "independent" and "alternative" are thrown around in the annual international media feeding frenzy that is Sundance, the Dyers discovered commercial considerations weren't quite moot.

"The William Morris Agency came to us and expressed interest in representing the film," Gretchen claims. "And there were some film companies, too, who said they were very interested. But ultimately, we encountered the same conflict with each one--the acquisitions people liked it, but the marketers nixed it. They said, 'How are we going to sell a movie about lesbians in the Bible Belt in New York and Los Angeles?' And without some kind of hip, urban, in-joke lesbian sensibility, they complained that the film wasn't 'erotic' enough. We were finally set straight on what that meant--Connie and Dee weren't curvaceous, 25-year-old model types."

"The movie industry is one big loop," Gretchen adds. "Since most of the people work in either New York or Los Angeles, the attitudes in those cities have come to be confused with America's attitudes. Well, we love Go Fish, but we didn't want to make just another version of it. We never intended this film to appeal to the New York sophisticate. They have plenty of movies to call their own."

Ultimately, the Dyers were left heartsick: The very reasons they'd chosen to write, produce, and film Late Bloomers were what the national indie companies (most of which are big studio holdings, anyway) had cited when they turned their backs on the film. They left Sundance without a taker, although one influential company head who saw it there later decided he had to have it. And his company may have been the unlikeliest distributor of all for a sweet little romantic comedy that climaxes with a wedding kiss.

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