Everything Relative: Sharon Pollack’s Debut (Lesbian Big Chill?)

Already touted “the lesbian Big Chill,” Relatively Speaking is a disappointingly dull, schematically conceived film about the reunion of seven lesbians and one straight woman who went to school together in the 1970s.

Though there’s definitely a niche market for lesbian fare, Sharon Pollack’s feature debut is so poorly written and amateurishly executed that theatrical release is out of the question, relegating pic to regional and second-tier festivals.

Now that there have been several reunion tales, including John Sayles’ “Return of the Secaucus 7” which began the cycle, and at least half a dozen lesbian-themed films, the least you can expect from a narrative that combines these genres is a fresh angle, an interesting point of view that would elevate the familiar turf above the predictably routine. But, alas, “Everything Relative” is just that, a sentimental, overly simplistic meller that charts a well-mined territory, covering along the way all the expected issues, coming out, living in a straight world, dealing with AIDS and so on.

The occasion for the reunion is a b’rith for Daniel, the newly-born baby of Jewish mother Katie (Stacey Nelkin), and very WASPish companion and co-mother, Victoria (Monica Bell), whose brother fathered the child. The happy couple met 8 years earlier, which is the last time this bunch of women, who were in a political street theater in the late l970s, got together. Arriving one by one, and greeted with lengthy hugs and warm kisses, the past of each member is disclosed, specifically the one dominant trait that each femme is all too simplistically associated with.

As anticipated, each woman has a chip on her shoulder. Mexican Maria (Olivia Negron), who has just lost her kids in a custody battle to her husband, is seeing her grand amour Josie (Ellen McLaughlin), a recovering alcoholic, for the first time since walking out on her 8 years earlier. Turning to spirituality, the still bruised Josie hasn’t had a serious relationship since then.

Luce (Andrea Weber), a daredevil stunt woman, has been hiding a lot of pain behind a tough facade, ever since she was responsible for the death of her lover in a car accident 15 years ago. She arrives to the meeting with her two-week flame Candy (Malindi Fickle), a chic corporate yuppie. Though sex is clearly very hot, Luce sends her home on a bus as soon as she realizes that Candy doesn’t really belong to the group. Candy is basically cast in the same kind of “outsider” role that Meg Tilly played in “The Big Chill.”

A former hooker who’s now a successful singer in Hollywood, Italian-American Gina (Gabriella Messina) has always had a thing for Luce, which she expresses in continuous sparring and bitchy needling. Rounding out the band is the very straight Sarah (Carol Schneider), a political activist working for “Planned Parenthood” who’s happily married but can’t get pregnant by her hubby.

Set over a weekend at Katie’s secluded country house on a Massachusetts lake and in the lesbian-friendly town of Northhampton, the film shamelessly and mechanically chronicles the women’s activities from arrival to their emotional farewell and vow to get together again. Writer-helmer Pollack’s strategy is embarrassingly forthright and boring, alternating collective sessions of singing, dancing, and swimming with more intimate interactions, whose sole purpose seems to be reconciliation of old conflicts and tensions. By the end of the weekend, the lives and loves of the women are conveniently rearranged, with each femme possessing a new and better understanding of her identity and needs.

There are, of course, the requisite musical montages that bind the separate scenes together, with director Pollack insisting on showings what each of the women is doing at any given moment of the weekend, which in the context of this film feels more like a month. Hence, they all make love at the same time, with straight Sarah using a vibrator, which is how sophisticated the film gets. For this kind of material to work, it needs sharper humor, wittier repartee, faster pacing, elements that are badly missing here.

The beginning and ending, with a group of Jewish yentas that includes Katie’s grandmother offering their none-too-enlightened views on lesbianism, is sheer embarrassment.

Clocking in at 110 minutes, the film drags at an elephantine tempo, overextending its welcome by at least 20 minutes. Technical credits, particularly lensing and editing, are unpolished.