The Opposite of Sap
Genuine biting snarkiness is so much fun, and so hard to come by. Oh sure, anyone can throw off a withering glance when that’s called for, but think of all the targets that deserve a good snipe and get by unscathed.
Think of any movie labeled “heartwarming.” Think of A Very Special Episode of any sitcom. Think of puppies and flowery Hallmark cards and inspirational posters of kittens hanging from tree limbs. In a diabetic coma yet? The Opposite of Sex is your antidote.
“The human tabloid” Deedee Truitt (Christina Ricci, from The Ice Storm, her petulant puss not put to such good use since The Addams Family) warns us right off the bat not to expect any heartwarming crap from The Opposite of Sex: “I don’t have a heart of gold and I don’t grow one later,” she informs us in her snide voiceover that accompanies the film. Sixteen years old and the finest piece of trampy white trash Louisiana can cough up, Deedee is one of the more memorable characters you’re likely to encounter in a recent film, and not just because of her sharp tongue.
With the death of her stepfather a convenient excuse, Deedee hits the road for Indiana to visit her half-brother Bill (Martin Donovan, from The Portrait of a Lady), “an actual real-life homo.” She proceeds to seduce Bill’s boyfriend, Matt (Ivan Sergei), whom Deedee pegs immediately as the “beautiful dumb one.” Later comes the emotional blackmail, a pregnancy for Deedee of unknown paternity, strange thefts, cross-country road trips, gunshots, and more.
“Go ahead and hate me if you want,” Deedee tells us. Tough and street stmart, she can survive without our sympathy, but she does offer us some “nice” people to root for, even if they are “losers.” There’s Bill, of course, who takes with equanimity the slow but steady destruction of his life, from Matt’s betrayal to his own bout with blackmail that threatens to end his career as a teacher. There’s Lucia (Lisa Kudrow, from Analyze This, wonderful here in her repression and simmering anger), sister of Bill’s dead former lover, who is, hopelessly, in love with Bill even as she has some serious problems with the whole sex thing. There’s Sheriff Carl Tippett (Lyle Lovett, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), languid and sad with his own tragedy to cope with.
Even when Deedee disappears from the story for long stretches, these characters intrigue. Together, they’re a motley bunch who actually have something in common: an emotional desolation they’ve each brought upon themselves. Deedee and Lucia — for all that they can’t stand each other — share a sarcastic outlook (“This is why I hate people” is one of Lucia’s typical reactions to minor disaster.). Bill and Carl have both been cheated by love and have let it shape their lives. All of the characters, in their own ways, simultaneously hold sex in low esteem and accord it too much power. This compact little movie, with this handful of diverse characters, packs more nonpreachy philosophizing about relationships than any dozen Nora Ephron movies you’d care to name.
Best of all, writer/director Don Roos doesn’t have to manipulate the audience with gauzy lighting and sappy music to make us hope things will work out nicely in the end for all involved, or to make us glad when they do.
Deedee would approve.