Friday May 22, 1998
It's taken five months, but 1998 has finally produced a funny movie. A brilliantly written black comedy in the tradition of "To Die For" and "Flirting With Disaster," "The Opposite of Sex" was worth the wait.
Written and directed by Don Roos, whose comic sensibility is so fast-paced and unfettered that it verges on screwball comedy, the film stars Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow, both of whom are sensational in ways both expected and not.
The plot of this wicked little gem is kicked into motion by DeDee Truitt, a jaded 16-year-old played by the remarkable Ricci. A bad-to-the-bone teen queen who's like a hybrid of Lolita and Patty McCormack's "The Bad Seed," DeDee runs away from her white-trash mom and takes refuge at the home of her gay half-brother Bill (Martin Donovan). Once unpacked, she seduces Bill's live-in boyfriend Matt (Ivan Sergei), a human Irish setter who's lovely to look at but dumb as dirt. A pregnancy and robbery ensue, and the chase is on.
As DeDee, Ricci has the showboat role here. Nobody does sarcasm better than Ricci, who's growing up to be one of America's most consistently interesting actresses. However, it's Kudrow who walks away with the picture. Cast as Bill's long-suffering best friend, Lucia, an emotionally wounded woman who's rushed prematurely into spinsterhood, Kudrow is virtually unrecognizable as the actress who plays the ditsy Phoebe on the television series "Friends."
Trembling with indignation at the way the world works, Kudrow's Lucia is as smart as a whip, but she's a big drag nonetheless. "Do you watch 'Ellen'?" DeDee inquires on meeting Lucia, then adds in the voice-over that runs throughout the film: "She had a life once, but she stopped feeding it and it wandered away." By the end of the film you've realized that although the anarchistic DeDee and the uptight Lucia are coming from opposite ends of the moral spectrum, they're essentially alike; they're both so defended against life that they're barely able to live it.
Much of the humor in "The Opposite of Sex" pivots on cliches about gays, and the barbs--which are liberally sprinkled throughout the film by DeDee--are often so pointed that you may find yourself wondering if the film itself is homophobic. One need only remember that DeDee is equal opportunity all the way when it comes to insulting people. Moreover, it's patronizing to tiptoe around the subject of homosexuality as though it's still the love that dares not speak its name. Nobody tiptoes in this movie.
Because Roos knows how to write dialogue, he doesn't need to tart his film up with loud pop songs, and "The Opposite of Sex" is mercifully free of one of those annoyingly hip soundtracks. Also to be applauded is Roos' supporting cast, which is just about perfect. Donovan handles, with his usual aplomb, the thankless job of being the saintly character who's acted upon; Johnny Galecki is absolutely hilarious as a grunge gay fully equipped with an abundance of piercings and a Jeep; Lyle Lovett turns in a beautifully nuanced performance as a lovelorn cop; and Sergei's portrayal of Matt, the clueless beauty who's the objectof everyone's affection, is splendid.
"The Opposite of Sex" would be a bitter pill to swallow were it not for the fact that Roos' characters actually learn something from their travails, and evolve over the course of the story. DeDee, of course, tries to play it tough to the end, and in the film's final scene, when she threatens to break down and show some heart, she handles it in a surprising way.
The Opposite of Sex, 1998. R, for strong language and sex-related dialogue and sexuality. Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written and directed by Don Roos. Produced by David Kirkpatrick and Michael Besman. Executive producers Jim Lotfi and Steve Danton. Director of photography Hubert Taczanowski. Editor David Codron. Production designer Michael Clausen. Music by Mason Daring. Costume designer Peter Mitchell. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Christina Ricci as DeDee Truitt. Martin Donovan as Bill Truitt. Lisa Kudrow as Lucia. Ivan Sergei as Matt.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times