Claire of the Moon
1992, NR, 107 min. Directed by Nicole Conn. Starring Trisha Todd, Karen Trumbo, Faith Mcdevitt, Caren Graham.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 24, 1992
Lesbian love story Claire of the Moon wants to become the “Desert Hearts of the Nineties.” Its appearance in Austin is its theatrical debut outside of its home town of Portland where it was filmed. It tells the story of the mutual discomfort that grows into love between two temperamentally opposite women who are plunked together as cabinmates at a writers' retreat for women on the Oregon coast. Noel (Trumbo) is a lesbian and a psychiatrist whose reserved demeanor seems somewhat at odds with her reputation as the author of a controversial study of human sexual behavior in which she argues that men and women speak entirely different languages and that their experiences of intimacy will never be similar. Claire (Todd) is a popular satirist who believes herself to be straight but whose general unhappiness causes her to drink and smoke heavily, play moody Chopin nocturnes on the piano and engage in a constant flow of meaningless one-night stands with men in which she always retains the upper hand. With an Odd Couple such as this, it's narratively inevitable that an unscheduled attraction begins. The movie is the story of Claire's coming out. When a movie is in the position of being one of the only stories of its kind, in this case a lesbian film romance, it has the added burden of being all things to all people. And that's a sure set-up for disappointment. Though this is the story of one individual character and her experiences, there are sure to be viewers who will find fault with the portrayal if it is not true to their own experience and history. Nevertheless, it is groundbreaking, pleasurable and validating to witness in a movie theatre the experience of one woman's journey toward the discovery of her lesbian identity and the depiction of two women making love in a subjective, passionate, non-pornographic way. It can be persuasively argued that rather than more coming out stories, what is needed are stories that address issues facing already out lesbians. Claire's coming out is structured as the solution to her life problems. But the realities of her self-discovery are obscured by fuzzy romantic suppositions and a lack of broader cultural ramifications. Still, this is criticizing Claire of the Moon for what is is not, rather than for what it is, which I don't think is fair. The primary thing that bogs Claire down is the dialogue-heavy script. So much time in this movie is devoted to sitting around and talking that it's amazing that so little of substance ever gets said. The philosophical conversations never really progress past pat and simplistic observations and conclusions. Part of the problem here may be due to the acting quality of some of the secondary players, who though earnest and recognizable as clearly defined types, never emerge as full-fledged characters. Also problematic is Claire's narrative structure which is designed as something of a long tease that builds to an unsatisfying conclusion. It ends as it climaxes, or something like that. Still, I think this is a movie that needs to be seen because it does speak to topics we've so little opportunity to explore in movies, but ultimately, it may be a movie that you respect more for what it's trying to accomplish than for what it has accomplished.