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Genre: Drama, Thriller
Country: United States
Starring: Cheryl Dunye, VS Brodie, Guinevere Turner, Skyler Cooper, Lisa Gornick, Deak Evgenikos
Director: Cheryl Dunye
Run time: 66 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
The “OWLs” in the title of The Owls, out March 29th from First Run Features, stands for Older, Wiser Lesbians. Older, yes. Director / actress Cheryl Dunye is now 45 years old, and her friends are about the same age. And they are all, indeed, lesbians. It’s the designation of “wiser” that’s up for debate in this film. Does wisdom really come with age? Or is it a tired complacency that gets mistaken for solid, grounded wisdom?
The film centres around two lesbian couples. Carol (Dunye) and Lily (Lisa Gornick) are a longtime couple in a stable home, separated from the rest of the world. But they are unhappy, and get on each others’ nerves, and Lily especially feels trapped while Carol desperately tries to hang on to the relationship (Lily having a baby should help). Meanwhile, Iris (the gorgeous Guinevere Turner) is a drunk, hanging on to past glory while torturing her on-again-off-again partner MJ (V.S. Brodie).
Now, ostensibly, the movie is about the events before and after the murder of a young lesbian named Cricket (a powerfully sexy Deak Evgenikos) at a pool party. Ten years earlier, Iris and Lily were members of a major lesbian punk band called The Screech. Now they have settled into restless, angst-ridden lives with their respective partners, and they each act out in their own way – they miss the craziness of their one-time rock and roll lifestyle.
At a pool party, Iris gets drunk and comes on to Cricket, a gorgeous younger woman who happens to be there for some reason. An altercation ensues, and Cricket is killed. The four older women conspire to hide her body, and carry on with their lives. Soon, another character arrives and turns their lives upside down once more. Skye is a person of ambiguous sexuality – he’s either a very effeminate man or she’s a very muscular masculine woman. He-she insinuates him-herself into Lily and Carol’s home, despite the fact that she-he clearly hates both of them.
Of course, Skye is linked to Cricket (Cricket mentions Skye in one of the first scenes of the movie) and this provides the basis for the conclusion of the film. But the actual killing of Cricket, and the involvement of Skye, although they take up a lot of the screen time, feels like a real sidebar to the rest of the movie.
Dunye shoots the movie as a sort of reality-show docudrama. Each of the characters (including the dead Cricket) spends about a third of their screen time addressing the camera directly, usually in split screen while one of the earlier scenes gets replayed on the other side. At one point, it is the actors themselves who address the camera, not in character but as themselves, talking about their characters and how they perceive them. In fact, sometimes the “characters” refer to “Cheryl” instead of “Carol” in their segments.
All they do is talk about what it’s like to be an aging lesbian, or what it means to be “butch” or “femme”, or how they designate someone as “transgender”. After a while, it becomes self-indulgent, and really feels like they’re narrating the movie. The scene ends, and the characters come on screen, and hit you over the head with what it all means like I wasn’t going to be able to understand what was going on in the scene I just saw.
The Owls is interesting, both stylistically and in subject matter, but after a while it feels like it’s going over the same ground again and again, and the relatively brief 66 minute run time feels a lot longer by the time it’s done. It’s an interesting experiment, but doesn’t really work as a compelling film.