It's in the Water

1997, NR, 99 min. Directed by Kelli Herd. Starring Keri Jo Chapman, Teresa Garrett, John Hallum, Barbara Lasater, Derrick Sanders.

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Jan. 30, 1998

In this reprised favorite from last year's Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, young SMU graduate Kelli Herd tells a story that's sure to click with the droves of gay and lesbian Austinites who migrated here from conservative hinterland outposts. Herd's 1996 debut film is set in the fictitious Texas burg of Azalea, a semi-small town with a distinct Waco/Tyler feel to it. As a newly minted Junior Leaguer and born member of Azalea's upper-class beau monde, Alexandra “Alex” Stratton (Chapman) seems to have it made. Granted, her husband is a self-absorbed drudge, their sex life is the pits and her vapid, catty fellow League members keep her trembling on the brink of a blowup. All that aside, she's still rich, yummy looking and getting plenty of satisfaction from volunteering at the local AIDS hospice -- despite having to fight through protesters from the local “Homo No Mo'” chapter to report for duty. One day at the hospice, she runs into Grace (Garrett), an old high school buddy who's back in town after a reportedly painful divorce. The reason for the split, Grace confides, was that her hubby discovered her fling with a fellow (female) nurse. While Alex ponders this news another friend, the brazenly inverted Spencer (Hallum) is pulling the chains of local homophobes by telling them there's something in the local water supply that releases latent homosexual potential. Paranoia spreads like ebola, and soon nonstandard sex is replacing the capital gains tax as the major local bugaboo. In the midst of this ferment, several on-the-fence heteros fall off, including Alex, who very publicly takes up with Grace. “Wake up and smell the poppers, honey!” Spencer chortles as the unhappy housewife grudgingly faces her true nature. As you've no doubt gleaned, farce is the game Herd is playing here. The water-supply business is simply a McGuffin which facilitates some broadly amusing reflection on the arbitrary nature of sexual behavior and gender roles. The social satire is a weak point. As in many gay-themed comedies, the straight opposition are virtually all hysterical, hateful buffoons with none of the conflicted feelings which make life with hets so problematic for real-world gays and lesbians. But again, subtlety was clearly not in Herd's game plan. What she attempted, with considerable success, was to create a good-natured tribute to people who've suffered the trauma of coming out in a less than supportive environment and lived to laugh about it. Enjoy that, and the attractive, appealing cast (including Austin favorite Terry Galloway in a memorable cameo), and you'll hardly notice the lack of brow-knitting depth.

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