Starring – Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Reeve, Jessica Tandy, Linda Hunt, Madeline Potter
Directed by James Ivory
“Will you be my friend? My friend of friends? Forever and ever?” -Vanessa Redgrave, basically proposing to Madeline Potter after knowing her for five minutes in The Bostonians. That’s lesbians for you! Once we start the actual romancing, we are ready for marriage five minutes into the first date. Or is that just me?
I’m not sure that I liked this movie.
I mean, I should LOVE this movie.
It’s from Merchant and Ivory.
And I love me some Merchant and Ivory, the film Gods of period pieces.
And it’s about two women falling in love.
Lord knows I love watching movies about two women falling in love.
But I didn’t find myself falling in love with this movie.
Instead, I did find myself constantly asking throughout the entire movie, “What in the hell is wrong with that woman?!”
The Bostonians is based on a novel by Henry James and it is about Verena (Madeline Potter), a woman who is so beautiful and so mesmerizing that she’s got BOTH Christopher Reeve AND Vanessa Redgrave desperately pining after her, all the while; she’s got like 10 other men vying for her affections as well. But Verena keeps picking Olive (brilliantly played by the always amazing and mesmerizing Vanessa Redgrave). Over and over and over again, Verena is all about Olive. And so I liked that part of the film. A LOT! But Verena was also annoying as hell, because as she keeps picking Olive, at the same time she’s with Christopher Reeve, she’s all like, “Oh, I love you! I love you! But I don’t want to hurt Olive.” Ugh! This woman needed to make up her mind.
Olive is one smart lady for her times (and even now, really) and so was a feminist back when feminism actually meant something. The Bostonians is set in 1870s Boston and during that time, we women didn’t have the right to vote (we finally got it in 1920) and so brave people like Olive went against ALL OF SOCIETIES NORMS and fought for a right that even most women back then didn’t want, our equality. And that is how Olive meets the beautiful and mesmerizing Verena. Verena is giving one of her mesmerizing speeches on feminism, even though she doesn’t believe in feminism? Huh? But Verena is really, really, really good at giving these speeches about feminism, even though she doesn’t believe in it, and everyone falls in love with Verena when she gives these speeches on feminism, especially men (ironically) and Olive.
Olive invites Verena over to her place after falling in love with Verena at first sight (awwwww!!!) during one of these feminist/yet I’m not a feminist speeches of Verena’s. And right away Olive is all like, “I love you, baby. Marry me.” And, to my surprise, since this movie is set in 1875 and was made in 1984, I figured ole Verena would politely turn her down or not understand what Olive was asking for, but to my surprise, nope. Instead, Verena smiles at Olive, and just as we were going to get her answer, which I was pretty sure and was quite surprised was going to be a big ole “YES!” Christopher Reeve walks in. Men! They have terrible timing! Or as Madeline Kahn once said about men and their timing, “…coming and going. Going and coming. And always too soon. Right girls?” And so this movie goes from being a love story about two women, to a love story about a woman torn between a man and a woman; and another man and another man and maybe that other guy too. Verena is one popular lady. And so Verena spends the WHOLE movie NOT being able to make up her mind about first all these guys and Olive, and then it’s just a contest between Christopher Reeve and Olive. And Olive is always the front-runner in the race because Verena keeps saying to Olive that she will stay with her forever and ever; and never, ever, not in a million years get married to some stupid guy. I knew right away ole Verena wouldn’t be able to keep that promise. The guy is Superman, and Superman always wins.
And that is the premise of the story, Olive fights for feminism, while pining after a woman that she knows will eventually leave her. And Verena spends the whole movie pining after both Olive and Christopher Reeve, and always loving the one she’s with, while wanting to break up with the one she isn’t with, and then changing her mind once she’s with the other person. Ugh!
Make up your mind, Verena!
You’re making women look bad!
Good thing you’re not actually a feminist! They’d kick you out of the club!
BUT, all is not lost with this film, at least it wasn’t for me, because before Christopher Reeve keeps constantly butting into Olive and Verna’s relationship, we get a musical montage (this was the 1980s after all, the decade of musical montages in movies, even Merchant and Ivory couldn’t resist that 80s trend) of Olive and Verena falling in love through books and art. And during the whole musical montage, I was all teary-eyed (because I’m a sucker for romance, especially lesbian romance) because it was not only so beautifully romantic, but so true to my life experience of falling in love with my wife. We fell in love over books and art and movies and musicals. So, I guess that’s what lesbians do, we fall in love while learning about stuff. We are multitaskers that way. 🙂 But all kidding aside, this is one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever seen on the screen when this musical montage is playing. Olive and Verena are romancing each other and people don’t really romance each other anymore (on TV or in real life), so it was quite wonderful to not only watch an actual romance happening on my TV, even if it was in a musical montage, but that romance happening on my TV was between two women. Why doesn’t this happen on my TV more often? Sigh…
BUT, then I got disappointed again, because the movie being made in the homosexual dark ages of 1984, Olive and Verena don’t get a lot of physical affection with this romance. BUT it being 1984, they get WAY MORE physical affection in this movie than I dared to hope for. Olive and Verena do hold hands a lot and hug a lot and even lie on one another a few times during the movie. And all of these caresses are beautiful and romantic and quite touching. They certainly made my heart go all a-flutter with love. And during a scene when Olive is definitely sure this time that Verena has left her for Superman, so when she is finally able to be with Verena again, she practically makes love with her right there on the couch. It was one beautifully romantic and hot as hell scene; despite the fact that Olive’s kisses mostly just stay on Verena’s cheeks and forehead. I had to go for a glass of cold water, myself, it was so surprisingly hot. Yet, despite the hotness of said scene, during the whole movie, I couldn’t help wondering, “I don’t think Olive and Verena are having sex.” And I ended up being right, dammit! James Ivory, who directed the movie, said in the behind-the-scenes video I watched after the movie that he didn’t see Verena and Olive having sex, so that is basically how he filmed it. What I want to know is, why do men think that lesbians either never have sex OR are like lesbians in porn and have sex all the time? Men of the world, lesbians do indeed have sex. Men of the world, it looks nothing like porn.
So, moral of the story is, just because it’s a Merchant and Ivory film about two women falling in love, doesn’t mean that this lesbian, who has been a lifelong Merchant and Ivory fan since I was 14 years old, is going to love or even like this movie. I’m still not sure if I liked it. I think I did and didn’t, and all at the same time. One thing is for sure, I will be watching that musical montage of Olive and Verena romancing each other over and over and over again for the rest of my life because film has finally captured what my romance with my wife looks like and it’s no surprise to me that it was Merchant and Ivory who were the film team to do it. Sometimes it takes a couple of gay men to show the world what two women romancing each other looks like. Except we have sex too. Just saying. 😉
Fun Fact: Ismail Merchant and James Ivory were not only partners in film, but partners in life as well. They were together for several decades before Merchant passed away in 2005. Their amazing contributions to the film world include – A Room With A View, Howard’s End (my personal favorite), The Remains of the Day and the gay-themed, Maurice and Heights. I can’t recommend these films enough. I have seen each of them probably hundreds of times now and I never get bored with any of them. These films are almost like family to me. 🙂
This is really the musical montage of romancing I was talking about and not a trailer. They should make more trailers like this; musical montages of women romancing each other, whether the film is actually about that or not.
Just saying. 😉