Judge Jennifer Malkowski regrets that loving (or lusting after) Annabelle is not quite enough to save this one from the ranks of bad lesbian movies.
One student. One teacher. One secret.
In the long, hot tradition of lesbian movies set in girls' boarding schools, Loving Annabelle begins with the arrival of rebellious young senator's daughter Annabelle (Erin Kelly) at a Catholic girls' school (re: a school full of sexual repression and girls in those sexy skirts). She meets (re: takes a long look at the ass of) an attractive teacher named Simone (Diane Gaidry) and forms an instant connection with her (re: sets about getting her into bed).
The above description is perhaps a bit flippant. Like the superior Lost and Delirious before it, Loving Annabelle is nothing if not earnest and emotional. Annabelle and Simone—in between long, lustful looks—do share an emotional bond and help each other recover from past broken hearts. Their connection sometimes resonates on this other-than-sexual level, thanks mostly to a strong performance from Kelly that often overcomes a clumsy script. Though Annabelle is not exactly written as someone whose name would demand a preceding "loving" verb, Kelly somehow plays this muddled character as incredibly sympathetic. Framed as a bad girl, Annabelle never really does anything that bad, other than chain smoking (the film did turn Kelly into a smoker—no word yet on whether it turned her into a lesbian). Her true kindness is immediately apparent, but by playing up her sexuality and faux-predatory nature, Kelly does manage to infuse a kind of rebel quality into her.
Also like Lost and Delirious, the film pulls off lush visuals and finds some excellent shooting locations for the school. Director Katherine Brooks, working on a small budget with only 20 days of shooting time, gives the film a distinctive atmosphere, aided by a good score.
But with one further exception described later, these qualities were all there really was to love about Loving Annabelle. In her commentary track, Brooks explains over and over again that it was her first feature, and she had no budget and no time. Unfortunately for her, the main problem with the film—the script—has nothing to do with budget or shooting time. From the unhelpful dialogue between Simone and Annabelle to the motley bunch of background characters that are never really developed to the abrupt, ill-conceived ending (I really thought queer directors had learned better about these by now), Brooks's script has an awful lot of problems. And don't even get me started on the bathtub scenes: Simone lies crying in the tub, surrounded by candles, stroking an 8 x 10 of her dead girlfriend. Had Brooks piped some Indigo Girls into the soundtrack and plopped a cat down to wander through the apartment, she would have created the perfect lesbian melodrama cliché.
But there is one major thing that the entire cast and crew does really, really right in Loving Annabelle, and it is might be enough to save the film: the sex scene. In her commentary, Brooks explains the many sacrifices she had to make for the low budget and then says, "I [was] so willing to compromise on everything but the sex scene." That was probably the best decision she made with this film, and the results are really worth it. The scene is urgent, intense, uncompromising, and totally believable—and I must say, a little uncomfortably arousing to watch with Kelly herself sitting two rows behind me when I initially saw this movie at the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It would not have been as intense and satisfying without the hour of sexual tension and long, teasing build-up behind it. That tonal thread through the film works well, and pays off in a big way with this scene.
Wolfe provides an impressive release package for this little film, which looks and sounds quite nice on this DVD, and includes a wide array of extras. Fans might wish they could paste the slightly better, two-minute alternate ending right over the original one, but here at least they can watch it and pretend. The three minutes of outtakes are unfunny in a standard way, except for a nice gag in which the romantic note on Simone's flowers is replaced by one that shows a blatant sexual proposition from the director. Eight minutes of deleted scenes add a little narrative weight to this slight 79-minute feature, but most don't really work on an emotional or acting level. The commentary track with Brooks and Kelly is embarrassingly apologetic on Brooks' part, including the following phrases:
"I despise that shot, I really do."
This commentary and the making-of featurette reveal that the crew, particularly Brooks and Kelly, genuinely bonded on the shoot and during the four-year pre-production period that preceded it. They also reveal a distinct sexual tension between the two, jokingly denied many times, that puts the audience in the position of voyeuristically listening in on some kind of awkward flirtations. By the time we are literally reassured that they haven't made out, but if they did it would be hot, the whole thing gets a little uncomfortable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
• Commentary with Director Katherine Brooks and Actress Erin Kelly
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