Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Movie Review: Jenny's Wedding

I'm going to preface this review by noting that queer women have slim pickings when it comes to movies and TV shows to watch that depict us. So, even when I review queer movies that don't particularly speak to me, I don't want to seem ungrateful.  In fact, something I love to do almost as much as watching good queer cinema is write about bad queer cinema.

So, I think the two nicest things I can say about the film Jenny's Wedding are that (a) it seems earnest, and (b) it's about a family that reacts.... awkwardly to their female relative, Jenny, who reveals that she is a lesbian and marrying a woman.

The awkwardness is understandable. For, Jenny and her partner are perhaps the straightest characters to ever be lesbians.

I cringe saying that, really I do, because it's not like there's even a one right way to be a lesbian, you know?  But, I do think a key requirement should be physical attraction to women.

Exhibit A.  Observe the interaction below. In it, Jenny (Katherine Heigl) lets her partner (Alexis Bledel) know that she's going to come out to her family:


Up until the end of the scene, the interaction seems like the two women are roommates who are actually just roommates and not roommates in the closeted-lesbian sense of the word - so much so that I, who can read sapphic subtext into everything - wasn't even sure the two characters were in a relationship until the end.

For one, Rory Gilmore (I'm sorry, I can't think of her as anyone else) says she wants them to have another roommate to help with bills.  I thought that was the opening for Jenny to suggest that her girlfriend move in with them, you know, the one she's actually in love with.  And two, Jenny reveals that she wants to get married and have a family, which seems like it's both a surprise to Rory and also maybe a really awkward proposal? Or, maybe they had a wedding planned already, but up until that very moment, it seemed like Jenny was on the fence about it?

The development of the actual same-sex relationship in this movie just seems lacking.  It's as though the lesbians exist primarily to help make the wacky, bigoted heterosexuals become better, more tolerant, people. And, in that sense, the film feels 5 years too late. With media offerings like Transparent, Lost Girl, and Carol, a movie that takes place today that is solely about bigots coming to terms with their feelings about their lesbian relative almost feels..... quaint.   Bigotry is still a real struggle for queer people, my complaint is that I don't think bigots deserve to be centered in movies or TV shows.

It is also a plot-line that explains the lack of emphasis, or de-centering if you will, of the relationship between Jenny and Rory. As an aficionado of on-screen kissing and chemistry between women, I found the relationship disappointing.  In the next clip, someone compiled all of the times Jenny and Rory were physical, and it clocks in at 31 seconds of screen time. I give you Exhibit B:

In the first kiss we see, I feel like I'm looking at two women who are very eager .... to stop kissing one another so they can get back to all of that platonic hugging. Nothing wrong with platonic hugging, but here it feels.... welllll, I don't know. I just don't want to watch two women kiss if it seems like they're not enjoying it that much. I want to pull Jenny aside and whisper, "Your girlfriend has a vagina that you might one day touch," because I think that might be a surprise to her?

In fact, in a funny way, I'm reminded of a Jenny Schecter moment from The L Word, Season 5 Episode 6, when she's directing the film-within-the-TV-show Lez Girls.  (Say what you will about Jenny Schecter, but Season 5 Schecter was often on. point).

In the episode, Schecter was coaching the two heterosexual actresses on how to portray two women having sex with one another.  They were awkward (yes, awkward is the operative word of this movie review!), giggly, and didn't really know what to do. So, Schecter tries to help, giving them some explicit direction, and ending with "Go for it!"  One of the straight actresses responds, "OH, you mean with my hand?" To which Schecter responds, "Yeah, unless you have some other apparati I don't know about."

For some reason, that scene came to mind during Jenny's Wedding.

Not only did Jenny and Rory lack chemistry, they seemed written to be profoundly unthreatening. Feminine. Thin. Both are conventionally gorgeous. Middle class. White.  And the final nail in the coffin proving that they are good people worthy of sympathy and acceptance is that both are social workers. Had they been welders or, say, hedge fund managers, on the other hand, you just can't guarantee audiences would sympathize, you know?

I'll end by noting that this is perhaps one of the few queer films where I almost didn't want the women to end up together.

Where Jenny is hurt by her family's bigotry, Rory is mostly .... mute and adorable. She has bangs, sad eyes, and practically zero lines. At one point, when Rory meets Jenny's family for the first time as "the lesbian lover," Jenny's dad makes an awkward comment to Jenny about how he can't figure out what the two women could possibly do in bed together, since they are both feminine.

Which (a) that's creepy for a parent to think about let alone say to their daughter. And (b) instead of deftly smoothing over that awkwardness or standing up for her girlfriend, Jenny instead yells out this zinger to Rory in front of fucking everyone: "Dad wants to know if one of us straps it on in bed!"

What in the actual hell?  Like, way to ensure that the entire family immediately begins picturing the two of you in bed, Jenny.

And also, queer women have had a lot of shitty conversations with parents, but this interaction has literally never happened ever in real life. (And I 100% realize I'm setting myself up for someone to chime in here and say, um actually....)

The point here is that lesbian/bisexual movies have a tendency to have bad endings where the two women don't end up together. Yet, in this movie, I was rooting against a wedding, because Rory seemed like a complete doormat.  And, many people do a lot for their partners, in terms of putting up with weird family dynamics. But here, for me, the shittiness reached peak Meet the Parents-level in which you just eventually want Rory to throw up her hands and say, "Fuck this. I'm out."

In my non-existent fanfic of this movie, Lorelai Gilmore would swoop in with a pint of Rocky Road, a tray of lattes, and advice for Rory on how to break up with Jenny and her weird, asshole family and go for someone who she could be awkward with, yet in a cute, non-toxic way.  Like Lane Kim or Willow Rosenberg.

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