Late Bloomers

1996, NR, 104 min. Directed by Julia Dyer. Starring Connie Nelson, Dee Hennigan.

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., June 27, 1997

I've known so many gay people who are reduced to honking, snuffling emotional wreckage by the most saccharine hetero romance films that one has to wonder: Why are same-sex love stories viewed as exotic or inaccessible by most straight viewers? Julia Dyer's slyly engaging low-budget film about love between two unglamorous, fortyish women strains mightily against this arbitrary niche-market stigma with an appealing blend of charm, humor, and subversive appropriation of classic romance-movie imagery. Its story takes place in a generic suburban school called Eleanor B. Roosevelt High (an example of the droll throwaway humor with which the script is laced) where basketball coach/math teacher Dinah Groshardt and secretary Carly Lumkin both labor. Dinah (Nelson) is a no-nonsense, rather butch woman whose only obvious passion is for hoops. Not really a closeted lesbian, she'd be more accurately described as asexual by choice. That changes when she falls hard for Carly -- an event that's not only unexpected but ironic in that their first real talk arises out of Carly's mistaken belief that Dinah is sleeping with her husband. Their connection and its effects are like one of those chaos-theory scenarios in which the movement of butterfly wings triggers a typhoon. School administrators, students, and Carly's family writhe in convulsions of shock, scorn, and moral outrage as the affair comes to light. Yet at the quiet center of it all are two women who know only that, however this thing came to be, it is good and real. Their love is frankly sensual, with no wussing out on nudity, hungry kisses, etc. However, the Texas-born Dyer siblings (Julia's sister Gretchen wrote the script and brother Stephen produced) have taken great pains to make Late Bloomers user-friendly to the widest possible audience. To that end, the Dallas-made film also has a bright, sunny, eager-to-please quality that sometimes crosses the line between ingratiating and grating. But thanks to the unexpectedly strong acting of nearly all the major characters -- especially Nelson, whose bearing and air of restrained passion sometimes recall Helen Mirren -- the inherent power of the story's moral message is never trivialized. Late Bloomers does stray from course a bit when it rehashes the stale, inane point-counterpoint of homosexuality as a social “issue” (though maybe the unenlightening nature of these dogma-slinging exercises is the Dyers' point). However, as a warm, fuzzy torpedo targeting straight viewers' irrational fears and misconceptions, it's a direct hit.

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