Trimark // 1999 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Rogers (Retired) // February 18th, 2000
"You're not bisexual, you're omni-sexual. You're like that tornado in the Wizard of Oz, sweeping up everything in your path."
A lot of independent films come out every year, and more than a few of them can safely be described as niche offerings. Some are downright odd, even bad. Fortunately, while this effort from director Anne Wheeler (The War Between Us, The Diviners, Cowboys Don't Cry) is indeed a niche film, it's also humorous, has a bit of heart, and is a lot of fun to watch.
Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) is a nineteen year old living in Vancouver, having a "finding myself, being young" phase in her life. She meets street artist and wanderer Kim (Christina Cox), and the two of them hit if off quite nicely. Did we mention they're both gay? You should know that. Lila, Maggie's mother (Wendy Crewson -- Bicentennial Man, Air Force One, To Gillian on her 37th Birthday), is divorcing from her husband, and comes up to join Maggie while she attempts to rebuild her life and move forward.
Without laying out everything that occurs, suffice it to say the characters Maggie's life (Francis, her boss, the severe lesbian who runs the lesbian and erotic bookstore she works at; Judy, the pre-operative trans-sexual who sings at a bisexual club; Carla, a coworker at the bookstore who's 'omnisexual'; and Tony, the very straight owner of the coffee shop next to the bookstore) provide more than a little material for Maggie, Kim and Lila to work with as Maggie and Kim figure out their relationship and Lila comes to terms with her life ahead.
The cast is almost entirely composed of unknowns and new actors, but they all do a great job providing the quirky and humorous script just the right punch. Better than Chocolate could easily be yet another in a long line of films starring gay characters that's preachy, depressive or mopey, but it instead uses the sexual orientation as simply a piece of set dressing for the story that plays out before us. And of course, as a source of continual amusement as one great line after another rolls out.
As for the disc itself, it's a rather nice effort, with fewer problems than most indi discs have. The video transfer is solid without quite becoming impressive, but it also never degrades into any negative territory. Colors don't bleed, edges remain fairly crisp (fading a bit softer only here and there), and there aren't any instances of visible artifacting. Especially enjoyable is the stage number in chapter eleven, which features three female singers wearing phosphorescent clothing and makeup under black lights; it comes through the compressing process nicely without any problems at all. Nicely done.
The key extra, the only extra on the disc other than the theatrical trailer is the audio commentary with director Anne Wheeler. She covers all usual points, but does so with in an engaging manner and with an enjoyable insight. We hear of the offbeat nature of the film's production (filmed in just twenty-two days), listen about scenes that come together almost by themselves, and generally end up knowing the kinds of things most people would like to hear about a film they enjoyed if they got the chance to question the people behind its creation.
However, the major complaint against the disc is the weak effort on the soundtrack. Done in stereo only, dialogue fades up and down through the film, forcing the viewer to continually fiddle with volume levels to understand the characters, then scramble to turn it back down when things get loud again. It would have been nicer to have a soundstage that brought the dialogue more forward than it turned out.
Also, Better than Chocolate lacks an anamorphic video transfer, but that's all too often a common complaint about discs these days.
Ultimately, Better than Chocolate is a lot of fun to watch, providing numerous hearty laughs and amazed delights at the antics and lines spilling forth. The disc has a sound problem, but this doesn't prevent the film from being enjoyable. Good to watch with friends, so the jokes can be shared.
Trimark is issued the standard warning about lacking anamorphic video, and is further reprimanded for the audio difficulties that came through on the disc. They are offered praise, however, for the insightful and well done director's commentary. Cast and crew are thanked for a very enjoyable effort.
Review content copyright © 2000 David Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio commentary with Director Anne Wheeler
* Theatrical Trailer