I described Christina Ricci's face as cherub-like in "Buffalo '66,"
and nothing can be further from the truth than in "The Opposite of Sex,"
a delectable comedy-drama where she plays a tramp with a heart of lust.
Ricci has a beautiful, fascinating face that speaks volumes of lustlike,
uninhibited qualities - she would have been ideal as Lolita.
Ricci plays Deedee, a sixteen-year-old tramp who just moved in
with her half-brother Bill (Martin Donovan), a gay teacher in Indiana.
He lives with the spinster-like Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), sister of Bill's
former lover who died of AIDS, who takes an immediate dislike to Deedee.
Bill's new boyfriend is the muscular, dim-witted, bare-chested Matt (Ivan
Sergei). Deedee sees a new catch for her net and proceeds to seduce and
bed Matt, who is almost too willing. This results in Deedee getting
pregnant, taking most of Bill's savings, and running off with Matt to
L.A. Bill and Lucia proceed to find them, and it all involves endless
plot complications and twists.
"The Opposite of Sex" begins as a satire, and winds itself topsy-turvy
as a road movie about the importance of family and relationships. I didn't
mind the winding, but the satire is the best and most clever part of the
film. There's something playful about writer-director Don Roos's sly
take on family life, the media, and how a gay man perceives the madness
in (a) Deedee conquering his male lover, (b) putting up with the aggravating
Lucia, and (c) accusations of sexual crimes at his school by a former
student, Jason (Johnny Galecki), Matt's other lover.
The satirical elements are not maintained, however, when the road movie
takes over the second-half of the picture resulting in a "Something Wild"
ride through twists and surprises. There's also the introduction of a
bland sheriff (played by none other than Lyle Lovett) who holds a torch
for Lucia, and a Louisiana redneck kid - they both bring the film to a
halt whenever they appear. And the conclusive Canadian border sequences
hardly mirror the originality of the first half of the movie.
"The Opposite of Sex" is told from the point-of-view of Deedee, and
we hear her self-aware narration as she comments on the facts of the
story. My favorite quips were regarding plot devices: "A gun. This is
foreshadowing. Duh." Even funnier are her comments on gays: "Only gays love houses like this," or when she refers to Billy and his friends as "losers." She constantly reminds us we are watching a movie and foretells all the clichés that take place, though the movie never really transcends them.
There are quite a few problems with "The Opposite of Sex" in terms
of its theme and exploration of sex and relationships. For one, Deedee
is an unredeeming brat and tramp rolled into one, who even holds Bill's
dead lover's ashes in a ziploc bag as collateral - there is no way she
would ever have a heart of gold. The movie tries to say that sex (and
sexual orientation) is all that matters in a relationship, and there is
no existing foundation for love. Then it switches gears, particularly
Deedee's motives, and says that family is all that matters. The happy
ending not only reverses its theme but succumbs to a development in
Deedee's character that is hardly believable.
As good as Ricci is, Deedee is still portrayed as a vixen with no
inner life. We learn precious little about her or her past except that
she destroys other people's lives. Others fare better in sharply written
roles such as Martin Donovan playing the blank-faced Bill. He plays his
role perfectly and is used to better effect here than in any of the
recent Hal Hartley films. Lisa Kudrow is the major surprise: her facetious
one-liners and double takes are intoxicating and proves there is life
beyond her Phoebe character in "Friends."
There are enough wildly comedic parts and choice dialogue bits to
qualify "The Opposite of Sex" as mild entertainment. I kept thinking of
a similar road movie/satire called "Flirting with Disaster," which stayed
true to its themes with no cop-outs or false endings. "The Opposite of Sex"
flirts with coming close to that movie's greatness, but never adheres to
its own convictions.
Copyright © 1998 Jerry Saravia