Film Reviews

Love story

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is an awfully long title for such a short, simple movie about first love.

The lovers in question are two young women of different races and social backgrounds. One is Randy Dean (Laurel Holloman), a slender redheaded white girl who lives in a ramshackle house in a blue-collar neighborhood with an extended family of older lesbians. The other is Evie Roy (Nicole Parker), a gorgeous African-American from a well-to-do home who's one of the most popular kids in school.

Both girls are smart and witty but have streaks of loneliness, so of course they're instantly drawn to each other. But while Randy is certain she's a lesbian, Evie knows only that she's drawn to Randy. Evie has a mother who's concerned with appearances, a boyfriend who doesn't understand why Evie doesn't like getting physical, and a future that presumably includes college, travel, marriage, and buppiehood.

Randy is a wrench tossed into the well-oiled machine of her existence. Evie might be fond of poetry (readings from Whitman's Leaves of Grass serve as choruses to the film's events), but she doesn't have a true poet's ability to toss propriety aside and embrace reckless, random experience.

But refreshingly, although she rides a bike, has short hair, talks tough, and knows her way around a bed, Randy isn't a cartoon life force or a screenwriter's sexual liberation fantasy. She's an introverted, troubled girl who needs Evie to help her put her life into context, to hang names on her sensations, to help her navigate through the thicket of her own confused feelings. These girls are obviously meant for each other. If only the world around them felt the same way.

Love conquers all, of course, though the lessons learned by the girls are bittersweet. Both Evie's mother, a brilliant black academic, and Randy's surrogate family, a working-class gaggle of proud white lesbians, discover they aren't nearly as liberal and tolerant as they claim to be. But although it has sociological points to make, the picture doesn't hammer them home. First-time writer-director Maria Maggenti has come up with a beguilingly understated movie that manages to capture both the thrilling heat and weird awkwardness of first love.

As is to be expected from any first film, there are certain elements that don't quite work. One is the verbal interplay among the various women in Randy's household; it often seems earthy-bitchy in a calculated, rather stagebound way. Another is Randy's misguided affair with an older, well-off, sexually-insatiable woman named Wendy who sometimes comes to her rescue with infusions of affection, advice and cash. Maggie Moore, the overbearingly wacky performer who plays her, seems to be acting in a different movie from Dean (or perhaps in an episode of "The Carol Burnett Show"), and the subplot itself is amazingly dull. By this late date, the young ingenue-lonely older woman romance should probably be marked "Property of Larry McMurtry" and retired.

The picture's chief virtue is its calm, reflective pacing, which allows us to bask in every moment the girls spend together and to savor the nuances of two exceptionally fine lead performances. Neither Holloman nor Parker ever makes a move that feels false. Thanks to their confidence, ...Two Girls in Love doesn't have the rushed, overhyped, anecdotal quality that sinks most teen romances; Maggenti keeps music-video-montage laziness to a minimum and actually lets us hang around with her two young lovers for long moments in which they aren't doing or saying much of anything.

Which might amount to the filmmaker's greatest inspiration: when you think back on your first love, it often isn't the torrid notes you remember, or the proclamations of eternal loyalty, or the midnight gropings in the backs of cars. It's the absolute stillness of desire, the uncanny ability of you and your lover to will yourselves into a state of free-floating, Zenlike sensuality in which nothing matters but the person sitting beside you. It's a serenity borne of complete (and deluded) confidence--the conviction that this fantastic feeling of total cosmic rightness will never grow old, never die.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. Fine Line. Nicole Parker, Laurel Holloman. Written and directed by Maria Maggenti. Opens July 7.

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Matt Zoller Seitz