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.

When Marcus Hu is written about in the national press, gay or straight, he's inevitably mentioned in the company of homo indie stalwarts like Christine Vachon and Marc Huestis. Strand Releasing--the Los Angeles-based, eight-year-old company for which he serves as co-president--does release more than just the cream of the "new queer cinema." Recent acquisitions have included the national rerelease of that most hetero of coming-of-age movies, The Graduate, as well as Marcello Mastroianni's last film.

Still, profiles of Hu in Movieline and Out have pegged Strand as the salon of distinction for America's best gay indie filmmakers, and Hu, himself openly gay, is proud of the reputation.

"Early on, we established a brand-name association, because we worked with such a large pool of gay talent," Hu says, noting that Strand also produces some of its projects. "I'm happy to say, because of that, some of the best gay titles come our way."

These have included critically lauded art-house hits like Greg Araki's The Living End and Totally Fucked Up; two consecutive programs of short films called Boys Life; and last year's docudrama Stonewall. What do these movies have in common? They focus on the intersection of gay male sexuality and political identity almost exclusively in large cities--often as not, in a violent or emotionally barren context. They are about as far from Late Bloomers in tone, visual style, and theme as Last Tango in Paris is from Sleepless in Seattle. Yet Hu insists the Dyers' Dallas-made production fits nicely into his company's aesthetic. Ultimately, the decision to acquire the film was his.

"I loved Late Bloomers when I saw it at Sundance," Hu insists. "It was a very tender, funny little story. The lead actresses were terrific, and I appreciated the way the Dyers treated these humble lives without a trace of condescension.

"The film is about lesbian love in a Norman Rockwell setting, and I can't think of anything more disruptive in the world of DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act]. I found the fact that they were able to present such a blatant pro-gay message in such a candy-coated fashion to be fascinating. This film takes the family-values argument away from the right-wing very forcefully by daring audiences to disapprove of a loving relationship between two wonderful women."

As it turns out, Strand had other concerns about confronting a supposedly open-minded audience--specifically, critics and seasoned gay and lesbian art-film audiences in New York. Could they stomach a movie that translates one of America's bloodiest culture wars into a suburban high school scandal? But Hu insists that Strand's decision to premiere the film in Texas is only partly about averting condemnation from Northeastern cognoscenti.

"We worried about how this film would play in New York," Hu says. "It's a fairly sentimental little picture. But the Texas premiere was more about setting up a grassroots campaign--'local folks make good,' that kind of thing. Every movie has to be marketed in a different way. We opened another movie about gay male lovers [Eric Mueller's World and Time Enough] in Minneapolis, where it was filmed. It did very well for us."

But did Hu have any concerns about how a homegrown valentine to Sapphic amour would play in Dallas, a city not generally known for its tolerance of minorities, sexual and otherwise?

"I honestly didn't associate Dallas with any particular political mindset," Hu says with a small laugh. "But I'll make a note of that next time."

His concerns about New York, it turns out, were at least partially founded when the June 10 issue of The Advocate hit the stands. Although many would question whether the status is deserved, the L.A.-based national glossy is generally considered the weekly of record for gay and lesbian America. That edition contained a review by critic Bob Satuloff, a New York-based freelancer who has written for New York Native and Christopher Street, both defunct publications that were the quintessential voices of the cynical, urban gay sensibility.

Referring to Late Bloomers as "awkwardly staged, sluggishly paced, and gratingly scored," Satuloff declares "the movie is good-looking and technically proficient, but its simplistic, cartoonish style, one-size-fits-all plot resolution, and relentlessly feel-good treatment steamroll the complex issues it raises into pancake flatness--resulting in a comedy with a terminal case of the cutes." Satuloff goes on to say that the movie's sincerity may make "sophisticated gay and lesbian viewers...suffer guilt pangs if they find themselves...rolling their eyes."

While Satuloff's appraisal is undeniably condescending and at times unfair, it's true that the biggest weakness of Late Bloomers may be excessive optimism. Any lesbian or gay man who's ever felt the sting of rejection from a parent or best friend may think the mass conversion of the film's incredulous townspeople is suspiciously easy. Then again, as Julia says, "Why is it that filmgoers would believe Tom Cruise can be blown onto the top of a speeding train by a huge explosion and still survive, but they refuse to think two women in love can have a happy ending?"

On getting a whiff of what Bob Satuloff's review contained, Julia Dyer says she refused to read it. Gretchen did, however, and it's clear that one word out of the whole piece sticks in her craw--"sophisticated."

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