Written by Sylvia Sichel and directed Alex Sichel
All Over Me is a lesbian coming of age drama focussed on Claude (Alison Folland), a tomboyish 15 year-old girl who lives in an underprivileged area of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. She’s desperately in love with her more conventionally attractive (and definitely heterosexual) best friend, Ellen (Tara Subkoff). The girls share a symbiotic relationship that will be a painful reminder to a lot of lesbian and bisexual viewers of something we experienced as teenagers. How many of us had this kind of relationship? The over-closeness and unhealthy power dynamic that underlies the relationship between the naively adoring young lesbian and the heterosexual girl who accepts that adoration as her due, and simply doesn’t understand why her friend is so upset by the appearance of a boyfriend, is beautifully drawn in this film.
Warning – some spoilers!
Everything begins to fall apart when Ellen starts dating a violently homophobic young man called Mark (Cole Hauser) who’s involved in drug dealing. Claude is upset enough about this, but the situation comes to a crisis when a gay man is brutally murdered and both Claude and Ellen are forced to decide where their loyalties lie. When another girl (played by the then super cool Leisha Hailey of The Murmurs) starts to show interest in Claude, she also has to confront the truth about her own sexuality that her friendship with Ellen has allowed her to avoid. The tipping point of realisation for Claude is brilliantly represented in her total emotional breakdown to the sound of Patti Smith’s song ‘Pissing in the River’. It encapsulates the ending of one of phase of a life after which nothing can ever be the same again.
All Over Me is a wonderfully naturalistic film, made in a similar style to Lucas Moodysson’s also excellent Fucking Amal. It feels like an authentic representation of what it’s like to be 15 and in love, so much so that you come away with a sense of relief at not being a teenager anymore. It also has a great early 90s riot grrrl soundtrack that really conveys the era.
The director got tremendous performances from the actors. Alison Folland is perfect as Claude and, no matter how badly she behaves, you can’t help but sympathise with poor, doomed Ellen. Cole Hauser is terrifyingly as Mark – you know this guy and you fear getting involved with someone like him. The scene in which he threatens Claude is sweat-inducing. Wilson Cruz shines as Jesse, a gay latino boy, and my only complaint about the film is that they probably could have used him more.
It manages to be extremely serious without being depressing – the ending has sadness, but is also uplifting – as the possibility of new romance blossoms for Claude and she starts to move on with her life. It’s erotic in places, but not explicit, which I think is appropriate for a film about 15 year-olds.
All Over Me is a film about growing up, about letting go of immature relationships, but it’s also about allegiances, making the profound point that total allegiance to heterosexual culture demands the death of queer people.