Desert Hearts (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
|One thumb up (Tuna), one thumb down (Scoop).
Scoop's comments in white:
Desert Hearts is a movie that is well known among devotees of lesbian movies, whatever their motivations. It has enough reality and romance for those who watch for the story, and it has enough nudity for those guys who just like to see women touching each other. It probably ranks with "Personal Best" as the two most famous and influential major movies about lesbians.
The basic plot is that a New York professor spends the summer in Reno in order to fulfill the Nevada residency requirements for a divorce. (It wasn't easy to get a divorce in 1955. It was a different world.)
Frankly, it isn't that good a movie, although I like some things about it. The directing style follows a deliberately picaresque narrative. Show a snippet of this incident, end the scene before we see the significance, move on to another scene with minimal information. Some of these scenes are enjoyable set pieces, but others will leave you scratching your head, wondering why the scene was included at all. As I re-watched it and thought about it, there were still three or four scenes that didn't seem to serve any purpose, either as entertainment or plot advancement. Furthermore, there were a couple of other scenes where all the dialogue was drowned out by the background music. This was obviously deliberate technique, but not one that I liked. Pretty much every scene seems to end in the middle. Again, this is obviously a calculated style, because it didn't happen a couple scattered times, but almost every time. I don't know. Maybe I should praise the director for a fresh approach, because it is quite unlike anything else I've seen.
I wasn't much impressed with the acting and character development, either. Patricia Charbonneau was a novice. Some scenes favored her while others did not, but she seemed to deliver a real and likeable character. The Helen Shaver character seemed to be the problem. The actress couldn't quite seem to figure out how to deliver the character. She was supposed to be an elegant and stylish New York lady running away from a loveless and joyless existence, but she couldn't seem to find the right tone to keep this from caricature. She spends the first 2/3 of the movie in kind of a haughty snit, one of those nose-in-the-air, leave me alone, kind of portrayals that come out of community theater. Frankly, she's so aloof, stiff, and disagreeable that you wonder why the little self-confessed lesbian ever fell in love with her in the first place, except for her beauty. I'm not sure if Shaver is really to blame for that. She got such a sketchy back story that she didn't get much chance to show any depth of characterization. She has no past that we can relate to, and she is aloof in the present. There's no problem with the Charbonneau character, because she's in her world interacting, but the Shaver character is never shown in her world. She's just a better looking version of Margaret Dumont, a caricatured Manhattan society dame, there for the benefit of a serious lesbian instead of a silly Groucho.
One thing the two women did quite well was the romance. Their tentative first kiss in the rain and their hesitant love scene were played with a certain clumsy sincerity, played so effectively that those two scenes managed to carry the entire movie, at least as far as it could be carried. I give the film a lot of credit for handling the romance in a natural and sensitive way. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot behind it.
In the IMDb voting, this film probably has the most dramatic demographic split of any movie I've ever seen. Women in general love it, rating it 8.9 (pretty much good enough to be the best movie of all time), while men rate it 6.0 (barely watchable). And the older the woman, the more they like it! This table summarizes:
I pretty much agree with the other old farts at 6.6. It isn't an awful movie. It has some positives, but it's too boring, too sketchy in its character development, and too black-and-white in its attitudes toward the characters.
|Tuna's thoughts in yellow:
Desert Hearts (1985) is a
personal favorite. I rented it the day it was released on New Years Eve
as one of several movies, and was totally blown away by it. It is the
best lesbian film ever made, and has one of, if not the, hottest love
scenes every filmed. Donna Deitch, in her directoral debut, got this
character driven drama/love story just right.
|Deitch toyed with the
idea of a sequel, which she eventually dropped, but she did share what,
in her mind, happens to the two characters. Charbonneau moves to New
York, and the two are together for a time, but Charbonneau ends up with
a woman closer to her own age, then stays in New York and becomes a
successful sculptor. Shaver finally has the courage to come out as a gay
woman, and faces a lot of prejudice from the faculty at her University.
Lesbian sites rank it as the most influential lesbian film of all time. The genre is gay/lesbian drama, and this simple love story has enough universality to be accessible to anyone. It is the chemistry between the leads, in the end, that make the film.
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