Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love by Maria Maggenti

Maria Maggenti's “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” is a charmingly naive lesbian romantic fable that celebrates the sacredness of first love. The narrative surface is rather conventional, detailing the first love of two highschool seniors determined to stick together against all odds. But the lesbian milieu is new, as is the protagonists' young age, setting the film apart from twentysomething and thirtysomething lesbian comedies such as Go Fish and Bar Girls.

Highschool senior Randy (Laurel Hollomon) is a rebellious tomboy who lives with her lesbian aunt and her aunt's lover in a working-class neighborhood. Bored and unmotivated, she keeps a part-time job at her aunt's gas station. Everything changes when she spots Evie (Nicole Parker), a rich, beautiful African-American classmate, who's one of the school's most popular girls. The girls connect when Evie drives into the gas station to have her posh Ranger Rover checked. A few meaningful looks are exchanged–and Randy falls in love. But the experience is totally foreign to Evie; still involved with a boy, she's intrigued but hesitant.

Unlike most Hollywood comedy-fables, in which romance is depicted as utterly glamorous, impossibly passionate, and abstract, the central liaison in Incredibly True Adventure is simple, concrete and authentic. Exploring teenagers' sexuality, the language of romance has a different nuance here, one of tenderness and pain, two qualities often lacking from American movie romances.

Most of the tale is devoted to Randy and Evie's dates, recording in dead-on, serio-comic manner the awkwardness and unbearable intensity of teenage love–holding hands, the initial kiss, the first intercourse. Not much is made of the bond's interracial foundation–race is not an issue for the girls or for their friends. Prejudice against lesbians, however, is very much in evidence, as in a restaurant scene, where Evie's friends one by one desert her.

Maggenti has etched two detailed portraits of women whose sexual identities are fluid enough to change. She also shows a sensitive ear for the kind of lingo spoken by teenagers when they're in love. Cluttering up the landscape, however, are subsidiary characters that are narrowly, grotesquely conceived, particularly Evie's stuffy mother (Stephanie Berry), a severe career woman, and the voluptuous, Anita Ekberg-like Vicky (Sabrina Artel), who punctuates the fable with outrageous costumes and fake comic relief.

Laurel Holloman and Nicole Parker, well-cast as the tomboy and beautiful girl respectively, give naturally engaging performances. Technical credits from an all-female crew, are raw as could be expected from an extremely low-budgeted effort. Maggenti still needs to acquire technical skills of camera placement, pacing, and framing. The last sequence, set in a motel, with the girls locked inside and everybody else frantically waiting outside, is too schematic. But her heart is always in the right place, which is what matters. Dedicated to her first love, Incredible True Story is a personal film.
Maggenti set out to portray lesbians in a positive light with her feature debut, “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love.” “All I wanted to do was make a movie about falling in love,” said Maggenti, 31. “But I couldn't do it with a boy-girl story, because that's not my experience.”

“Incredibly True Adventure,” a simple story of two girls in love, is lighthearted and funny, melodramatic and not dramatic. And most surprisingly, it's sweet and innocent. That's not to say no new values are to be found in the film. The two high school seniors who meet, flirt, pass notes, gaze at each other from across school grounds and try to woo each other with poetry, is not unlike other movie story lines. Except, of course, for that one little difference of sexuality, though the film shows how little that difference is.

Maggenti says the handling of the sexual subject matter in the movie was no challenge for her. “I was a first-time filmmaker. The challenges I had to worry about were to get this film made for under $60,000, to do it on 16-millimeter, to do half of my shots in one take,” she says. “As for dealing with the sexuality, that's everyone else's challenge.”

Sexual matters were a challenge for the film's stars, Laurel Holloman and Nicole Parker, as neither of them is a lesbian. To deal with the roles, Holloman, who plays the tomboy Randy, says she and Parker educated themselves about the gay community by attending Gay Pride Week activities in New York and gay social functions. Never acknowledging that they were researching for a film, they just tried to blend in. “It wasn't difficult–it was fun,” Holloman says.

What was difficult was persuading Maggenti that her lead characters could be played by straight actresses, particularly the role of Randy. While Parker's character, Evie, was supposed to be a feminine, ladylike straight girl who' first experiencing gay love, Holloman had to be transformed into Randy, “a short-haired, tough, butch girl,” as Maggenti describes her. “The first time she walked in, I saw this tall, skinny, longhaired, beautiful actress, and I thought, 'No way,'” Maggenti says.

The look has changed, though, by the time Holloman came for a callback. At that time, she was working in an Off-Broadway play that called for her to look like a 15-year-old boy; fortunately, that was the look called for in Randy.

Holloman says it took more than appearance to persuade Maggenti. “I think I really had to convince Maria that I had no inhibitions about playing the part,” Holloman says. “She probably would have liked a lesbian actress to play the part, somebody who could have been a role model for the community, but she got me. In the end, the story and the character are what can be used as role models and not me personally.”

Both Maggenti and Holloman say there was one essential element in the shooting of “Two Girls” that really helped them: the absence of men. While there were a few male crewmembers during the shoot, which was done in Westchester County, N.Y., most of the major positions were held by women.

Life on the set was similar to life at home for the film's protagonist, Randy, who lived with her aunt, her aunt's female lover and their lesbian friend in a working-class neighborhood. Not all the women on the set were lesbians, but there were enough there to make Holloman's surroundings seem like Randy's.

“A lot of the girls on the crew were like my character, so I could just look around and pick up lingo from one and behavior from another, and it made it easy to stay in the character,” Holloman says. Having a nearly all-female crew was not something Maggenti planned–It just ended up that way.

“When you have a woman director or writer, then a woman producer will be drawn to the film, and from there other women just sort of gravitate to it,” Maggenti says. “The result of the female crew was very important for the actors because it freed them from the male gaze and made them less self-conscious. Without men, they could act like silly teen-age girls instead of the beautiful twentysomething actresses they really are.”

Though the point of her movie was not social commentary, she does not shy from any opportunity, or responsibility, she might obtain from “Two Girls” in furthering gay rights causes. “I didn't make a niche-market film,” she says. “It wasn't about 'Let's make a lesbian film, and a bunch of lesbians will go see it.' I wanted to make a film that people would enjoy, a film about an authentic human experience and it happens to be with someone of the same sex.

“In the film, there's a part where Randy says that when you're in your life, it feels as normal as anything else. Well, this is how I've always lived, so my life is totally matter-of-fact and normal for me.”

This essay draws on my “Variety” review of the film, as well as interviews I conducted with Maggenti at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, in January, and interviews she has given to the “Village Voice” and the “Los Angeles Times,” in June 1995, when Fine Line release the film theatrically.