The Lesbian Movie Marathon: Better than Chocolate (1999)

I’m going to start my lesbian movie marathon series with Canadian Director Anne Wheeler’s 1999 comedy, Better than Chocolate.  This is the story of Maggie, a college drop-out who meets and falls in love with itinerant artist, Kim.  Everything goes very well (and very erotically) for them until Maggie’s mother and brother (to whom she is not out) descend for an unexpected visit.  Not wanting her mother to know that she’s practically homeless, and a lesbian, Maggie borrows an apartment from a lesbian sex educator friend, pretends it’s her own and that Kim is just her roommate.  The film also features a sweet love story between Frances, the uptight owner of the local lesbian bookstore and Judy, who is a trans woman.  When Maggie’s mother arrives, all kinds of fun ensues and ultimately everyone is able to make genuinely heart warming progress in their lives.

Warning spoilers!

Better than Chocolate features a narrative convention common to lesbian movies.  I’m going to call this convention ‘The Lesbian Fantasy Ending’.  Right at the end of the movie, there is a break with realism (I use the term loosely here) and suddenly the film veers into fantasy territory.  The family accepts the lesbian characters and their relationship, the lesbians get everything they want and everyone lives happily ever after.  This is not a criticism; I just think this convention says a lot of about lesbian life. Lesbian viewers desire this kind of wish fulfilment because in reality, it doesn’t happen very often and family approval usually remains more or less qualified.  At the end of Better than Chocolate, our heroines live happily ever after, becoming an artist and a writer respectively, Maggie’s mother becomes so accepting that she actually gets involved with the community and starts performing in the local gay bar, Judy and Frances also get married and live happily ever after.  It’s all just wonderful.

Overall, I enjoyed Better than Chocolate, but I do have a few reservations.  For a start, this movie centralises white, middle-class experience.  No one else seems to exist within the terms of the narrative.  Also, the bisexual character is a one-dimensional stereotype — sexually insatiable and kinky! I think this would be pretty offensive to a lot of bisexual woman.

It was great to see a trans woman represented as a multi-faceted person who is allowed to be legitimately angry in the narrative, and the film pulls no punches when it comes to representing the prejudice of others, including feminists (there’s a truly horrible scene in the toilets). However, I can’t help but wish an indie film like this had cast a trans woman actress in the role rather than a male actor.  My anxiety about the casting of cisgendered actors as trans people is that it quickly becomes all about the actor’s performance – oh, wasn’t so and so amazing as a trans woman —  rather than about the issues being addressed.

So, a couple of reservations, but overall a good lesbian date movie

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One thought on “The Lesbian Movie Marathon: Better than Chocolate (1999)

  1. I remember this movie BLOWING MY MIND when I saw it as a young person because up until that point, I hadn’t understood that a person’s gender identity was separate from their sexual orientation. The fact that Judy was a trans woman who was in love with another woman was very eye-opening – I’d always assumed that all trans women were into men and all trans men were into women. This knowledge helped me avoid several embarrassing blunders later in life and also helped me explain a lot of things to my mother. Thanks, Better Than Chocolate!

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