Saturday, 7 p.m.
Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.
Reel Affirmations, a program
of the D.C. Center
$10 general admission
$30 VIP pass for all four films this weekend
$50 host committee tickets
“Heterosexual Jill” is an uneasy combination of rom-com and satire. Despite the fantastic on-screen chemistry between co-stars Jen McPherson (Jill) and Michelle Ehlen (Jamie), the comedy never really takes off, though it aims at targets that are laden with comic possibilities (lesbian support groups, indie filmmaking and the confusing shifting boundaries of sexual identities and contemporary sexual norms).
A flashback reveals that Jaime and Jill met on a movie set where Jaime, a butch lesbian who can’t get work as actor, is playing a man. The director has forbidden Jaime to talk about her drag, which is convincing enough to fool Jill into thinking that Jamie is a man. Jill, straight and self-obsessed, is terrified when she learns that she has fallen for a woman instead of a man. This is the plot of the 2007 film “Butch Jamie,” which features many of the same characters.
“Heterosexual Jill” opens years later with the title character attending a meeting of Better Day Tomorrow, a support group for ex-lesbians. Inspired by the schemes of a fellow group member, Jill launches a plan reminiscent of a classic screwball comedy. To prove that she is no longer attracted to women, she will visit her ex to confirm that she has no feelings for her. The group’s facilitator warns Jill that this is a very bad idea. “Attraction,” she says in one of the movie’s best lines, “is a beast that needs to be tamed not taunted.”
Meanwhile, Jamie is acting in a ridiculous mockumentary about famous cats. In between scenes, Jamie’s life on the set is dominated by the continual bickering between gofer David and cat wrangler Lola (who is also Jamie’s ex). Each is convinced that hunky director Jose is interested in them and they stalk him to find conclusive proof of his sexual orientation.
There’s a lot to recommend in “Heterosexual Jill.” It raises interesting questions about how people express their sexuality and judge the choices made by others. It includes some great physical comedy, especially during Jaime’s trips to a lesbian bar. And the rapport between McPherson and Ehlen is strong. Ehlen makes Jamie’s decision to participate in Jill’s lame-brained scheme believable and touching and McPherson adds some nice shading to Jill’s baby steps toward self-awareness.
But the film needs a tighter overall focus. Some of the satire is too broad and some of the comedy falls flat. The supporting characters are sketchily drawn. As writer/director/producer/composer/actor, the multi-talented Ehlen could use a helping hand. There’s an inherent conflict between the sentimental impulse of romantic comedy and the skewering impulse of satire that she never resolves.
But “Heterosexual Jill” could still make a great date night movie. With the cinematic sizzle between Ehlen and McPherson (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Cameron Diaz) and the provocative issues at play, there will be a lot to talk about on the way home.