Bar Girls: Marita Giovanni’s Look at Lesbian Lifestyles (LGBTQ Cinema–Lesbian)

Though lacking the comic verve and savvy wit of Go Fish, the 1994 lesbian indie, Bar Girls situates itself in a similar territory, as a serio-comic look at the lifestyles of eight lesbians who frequent the same bar.

Marita Giovanni’s decent direction and a good ensemble cast, which happily overcome the film’s overly theatrical melodramatics, should increase pic’s visibility and potential release in urban markets populated by gay and lesbian viewers and hip, open-minded crowds.

Unlike Go Fish, which was stylistically innovative and politically subversive, Bar Girls does for lesbians what numerous American movies have done for heterosexuals, examining courtship and dating, attraction and jealousy, separation and reconciliation. Adapting her stage play to the screen, Hoffman has transplanted the familiar locale and interactions of movies set in neighborhood bars (Diner, Urban Cowboy) into a specifically lesbian milieu.

As the story begins, Loretta (Nancy Allison Wolfe) is leaving Girl Bar for what appears to be another solitary night, when she detects the beautiful Rachel (Liza D’Agostino) step in. Quickly changing her mind, she heads back in, betting with her friend Tracy (Paula Sorge) that within ten minutes Rachel will be in her car. Miraculously, despite previous disappointments, this time the come-on plot works.

At Loretta’s house, the two nervous women begin to share their pasts, soon realizing that neither is completely free to start a new involvement. Loretta is still attached to Annie (Lisa Parker), “a psych-jock from Bakersfield,” who’s now attracted to an unavailable, heterosexual woman. For her part, Rachel confides that she’s married to a man, though the marriage is disintegrating and she’s now involved with Sandy (Cece Tsou).

As expected, Loretta and Rachel get involved, move in together, and even vow monogamy and eternal love. But their bliss is interrupted by various complications: Former attachments turn out to be unresolved, and new players are determined to position themselves between the two lovers.

What makes Bar Girls rather conventional is that except for Loretta’s fully-fleshed figure the filmmakers work with types marked by one or two traits. Hence, Rachel demands monogamy because her father always cheated on her mother; Sandy is virtuous; Veronica is a beautiful heterosexual who’s now willing to experiment with alternate lifestyle; Tracy is a tough dyke who can fix trucks; J.R. is an aggressive cop.

Picture’s format, particularly in the first reel, is a bit rigid. As Loretta and Rachel recollect their affairs, flashback are inserted in an obvious manner that break the natural flow of the otherwise realistic dialogue. Scripter’s efforts to open up her play, by including street, beach, and office scenes are only partially successful, and her humor is often forced, concealing a preachy layer of self-taught “Relationships” lessons.

On the plus side, novice helmer Giovanni manages to keep the theatrical proceedings smooth and light for most of the time. One can sense her affinity with the material and love in staging the romantic intrigues that beguile her characters. Giovanni is also very good with the actresses, all of whom reprise here their stage roles.

In the lead role, Wolfe gives a standout performance that highlights the complexity of her character as a bright and attractive career woman, who’s also slightly neurotic about “Relationships.” She’s surrounded with a large cast that plays together with naturalism, benefiting from their stage acquaintance.

Technical credits, particularly Ferris’ fluent lensing and Meyers’ buoyant music, are more than adequate for a modestly budgeted indie.


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