Saturday, July 26, 2008

‘Out at the Wedding’

Directed by Lee Friedlander
2007 / USA / 90 mins
Screened Monday July 21, 18:50 - Spiral Hall

Ever since 1967’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, Hollywood has been making hash out of the culture clash between urban and rural America, the coasts and the centre, the north and the south. ‘Out at the Wedding’ follows in this tradition beginning with a fairly realistic premise: a woman named Alex is engaged to be married to a black man named Dana (the gender-ambiguous name is key to the plot) and has lied to her family about him, and vice versa, for fear of how they will react. Alex, a sophisticated professional woman living in New York, goes home to South Carolina for her sister’s wedding (with a gay sidekick in tow) and suddenly finds herself outed as a lesbian, when the secrecy around Dana’s identity is misinterpreted. Rather than quickly resolve the problem by coming clean, however, Alex adds one ridiculous lie to another – egged on by the gay sidekick – until, in true Shakespearean fashion, all the characters (including a fraudulent lesbian girlfriend, Reesa, hired to lend credibility to the incredibly story) are brought ‘on-stage’ at the end for the improbable, but highly entertaining resolution.

The filmmakers wisely choose not to dramatize many of the conversations required to settle matters between the aggrieved parties in this film, showing them instead from a distance with the soundtrack sketching in the emotional content of these elliptical scenes. After all, the film requires the recently married sister, Jeannie, to discover that she is herself a lesbian, and thus, to abandon her husband of a few weeks in favour of Reesa, her sister’s hired ‘girlfriend’. He takes it surprisingly well, as the light tone of this farcical comedy requires. As Northrop Frye has said of comedies: “Happy endings do not impress us as true, but as desirable.”

One of the most unique aspects of story, in so far as it is a gay film, is that the main character (Alex) is not gay. Rather, it is only as an indirect result of her shenanigans that her sister is enabled to come to terms with her sexuality – a novel twist in an otherwise familiar formula. A subordinate theme is Alex’s own prejudice in so far as this whole crazy misadventure is caused by assumptions she makes about the prejudices of others. To that extent, the film also challenges the stereotypes that make this genre – of the sophisticated urbanite going home to the country bumpkins – work in the first place.

The packed audience thoroughly enjoyed the film, not least the flirtation between Alex’s sister, and Reesa, as portrayed by the beautiful, strikingly tall and seriously athletic actress Cathy DeBuono, who – along with her real-life girlfriend Jill Bennett (who also plays a small part in the film) – joined us for the final Q&A session of the festival.

And, to round out the festival, MC Margaret joined us once again, this time dressed in a fabulous pink cocktail dress, and an enormous pink afro wig and top hat, that made her look perhaps like a flamingo escaped from the wardrobe department of ‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’. She began the Q&A by picking up one of the jokes in the film and asking audience members which they preferred, hot dogs or tuna sandwiches? Rather embarrassed respondents were rewarded with one or the other, fresh from one of Tokyo’s thousands of combinis [convenience stores], no doubt.

Then Cathy and Jill joined us and we were ready to begin.

Cathy: Thank you for inviting us. We’re really honoured to be here. This my girlfriend Jill. [Just to prove it, they shared a kiss, which was greeted with a wild reaction from the audience.]

Margaret: So how are you enjoying your stay in Japan?

Cathy: Everyone is so nice, so patient, and so helpful. We are really not accustomed to this back in the States!

Jill: We went out to some of the lesbian bars last night, and everyone was really friendly and welcoming.

Margaret: [With a hint of innuendo…] Have you met anyone special in Japan?

Cathy: Yes… we’ve met lots of special people! But I know what you mean… (laughter)

Margaret: After meeting you and having seen the film, my feelings have changed. I want to be held by your big strong arms!

[Cathy obliged by giving Margaret a hug, while a zillion flashes went off from the audience.]

Margaret: How did you get such strong arms?

Cathy: Genetics have a lot to do with it. I’ve been really lazy the past six months. But I was an athlete before I was an actor.

Margaret: What sort of athlete?

Cathy: I was a volleyball player for a while. I grew up playing sports. I played volleyball in college, but I knew that one day I would have to give up volleyball due to age or injury, so I wanted to be an actor as well.

Margaret: Now, Jill, you were also in the film…

Jill: Yes, I was in it for like 30 seconds! But I’ve done lots of lesbian TV and film roles as well.

Margaret: How did the casting for this film work such that you were both in it?

Cathy: I think it was just a coincidence. Jill and I didn’t actually get together as a couple until two years after this film was made.

Margaret: So did you meet during the making of ‘Out at the Wedding’?

Jill: Yes, but more recently we finished a film where we actually starred opposite each other, so that’s when we really got to know each other.

Margaret: Is seeing the film today the first time in a while that you have seen it?

Cathy: I have seen it lots of times at festivals. I always like seeing it with different audiences around the world – I like to see how they react to it. We also watched it recently with friends from out of town who hadn’t seen it.

Margaret: What scene do you like the best? Is it one with yourself in it?

Cathy: Of course it’s one with me in it! (laughter) I like the batting cage scene [when the flirtation between her character, Reesa, and Alex’s sister, Jeannie, gets into full swing – sorry, bad pun!] and the dance [also between Reesa and Jeannie]– they both turned out really sweet.

Margaret: So it was okay getting hit with that ball? [In the scene, Reesa takes a stray ball in the face!]

Cathy: Well, I didn’t really get hit of course. That was just a little movie magic.

Margaret: Have you experienced any difficulty as an out lesbian in the film industry?

Cathy: The biggest barrier for me is my physicality, not my sexuality. I am tall, dark and athletic, and there just aren’t that many roles for women of my physical type. But Jill has had a different experience.

Jill: I’ve done some mainstream film and TV work, but I do find that in recent years because I am out, it does come up as a problem with advertisers, and that’s where TV channels make their money. But the flipside of it is that I get to do a lot of lesbian and gay films and TV, and that’s my community, so I am really happy about that.

Cathy: It has worked in reverse for me. There are a lot more roles for me now because of the growth of lesbian and gay film. In the mainstream, I was always being cast in army roles or as a cop! That’s where they put me. But now I get to do more fun, leading lady sort of roles.

Margaret: There was an actress in the film called Mink Stole, from the John Waters family. What was it like working with her?

Cathy: She is a real character! She does cabaret and that sort of thing. She would just come to work, put on her wig, and we would have a blast with her.

Audience member: I think the story is really great. Very twisted in a great way. I wonder, how did the writer come up with such a great story? How did she write it?

Cathy: The writer, Paula Goldberg, is a very funny person, and I think a great writer. And she’s a lesbian. But the story is not based on her real life. Actually, the actress who played Aunt Cora in the film [Myrna Goldberg], who comes out at the wedding, is Paula’s mother.

2nd audience member: Were you told by the scriptwriter how to play the character, or were you free to do it as you liked?

Cathy: I spent some time talking to Paula, but I was left on my own a lot to create the character. I didn’t want the character [Reesa] to be the stereotypical tomboy lesbian who meets the cute straight girl, gets thrown a curve ball, falls in love, etc. I really liked that there is a human quality to her. She’s just a person with all the normal vulnerabilities.

Margaret: There is a scene in the film of you two [Cathy and Jill] fighting. When you fight in real life, does it look like that?

Jill: Yes! (laughter)

3rd audience member: I’m a fan of your blogs and know you’re both active in the queer community. What projects are coming up for you?

Cathy: We are doing a videoblog together called ‘What’s your problem?’ I am also a psychotherapist, so we sit down with a friend and discuss a problem they are having, and we make it funny, but there is also some real therapeutic value to it. My blog was on but now it has moved to the Here! Films site.

Jill and I are also doing an online travel show, and we are shooting some footage for it here in Japan. Our goal is to go to different cities and visit gay communities there to see what life is like. We want to help connect everyone around the world so that we can live the fulfilling, happy, creative lives we all know we want and deserve. We don’t have an online home for this project yet, but you can also check out our MySpace pages. We always blog about what we are doing on MySpace.

[After Ari-san had finished translating this long response into Japanese, Cathy added:] Oh, my god. Did I say all that?! (laughter)

Jill: You talk a lot, Cathy. (laughter) My blog is called ‘We’re Getting Nowhere’ ( on We have fun with it, but we are also critical and we talk about issues in the community. I’m also involved in an online show called ‘3WayTV’ ( It’s a comedy – who knew lesbians could be funny?! And I am on ‘Dante’s Cove’, which is a gay and lesbian supernatural drama, as strange as that sounds!

Going out last night and talking to women here and hearing their stories reminded us [she and Cathy] that we live in a place [California] where it is really easy to be gay, but that’s not the case for everyone. So we want to share your stories with the world. The Internet is such a great tool for that. As people get to know us, it brings our community together, which is what we have to do. And then the walls start to come down…

Cathy: [After another long translation from Ari-san…] See, Jill, you did it too! (laughter)

Margaret closed the session with a round of thanks to our guests and all the volunteers without whom the festival could not operate, and reminded us of a number of upcoming queer film festivals in Japan. For more information on those, check out the following links.

Cathy and Jill were greeted by dozens of mostly female fans in the lobby outside, and even stayed for the beginning of the mini-celebration that the staff had once all the patrons had left. They were asked if they had any comment to make to the staff, and egged on by – well, me actually! – Jill and Cathy tried their best at some Japanese phrases out of a travel guide. Jill’s Japanese was pretty rocky (no offence – she’d only been in the country a few days!) but Cathy managed to say – in Japanese – ‘I don’t speak Japanese’ with quite a good accent, which won her a hearty round of applause from the staff, and she celebrated her victory in true athletic fashion with a few triumphant fist pumps in the air. These two lovely ladies, who are using the platform their acting careers give them, to raise issues and try to push things forward for LGBT people, left us in a great mood - even as the festival came to its inevitable close for another year. So, thanks again, Cathy and Jill !

To them and to the festival staff, Otsukarasama desu (Thanks for your hard work !).

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