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In honour of this month’s foray into LGBT Cinema, writers Will Brownridge and Liam Volke took a look at Anne Wheeler’s 1999 film Better Than Chocolate , about the passionate relationship between Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) and Kim (Christina Cox) and what happens when Maggie’s recently divorced mother Lila (Wendy Crewson) decides to move in with them, unaware of her daughter’s sexual orientation.

Is Better Than Chocolate Essential Canadian Cinema? Let’s find out.

Will: So, I watched the film, and it wasn’t bad. The only thing that managed to take it out of the running for great was how it still managed to dive headfirst into typical romantic comedy territory about three quarters of the way through. Once you reach the misunderstanding portion of the film, things start to look a lot like every other rom-com, even if this one is focused on lesbians.

I was also hoping it would avoid anything resembling homophobia. Obviously that’s a problem in the world, but the film works so well without that. Yes, it’s a terrible thing that happens probably a lot more than anybody would believe, but is it unreasonable to think that a film about LGBT people can’t play without someone being verbally or physically assaulted for their lifestyle?

Liam: I’d definitely like to see an LGBT film like that as well, but it seems to me like this story is kind of about that, in its late ’90s rom-commy sort of way. Or it’s trying to be about that, I think. Lila the mother, is quite obviously from the more conservative world, where homophobia runs riot. Oddly enough I found her one of the more interesting characters, maybe because the change she undergoes is the most drastic of all.

Will: I never really thought of Lila as homophobic, more completely oblivious, which worked perfectly. She does have her moment that seems like she can’t accept her daughter’s sexuality, but I thought it was more of a shocked reaction than her dislike of homosexuality. The fact that she spends time with Judy and never really catches on to the fact that she isn’t quite a woman points to her being clueless. The story of the brother was pretty pointless though, and only seems to be there to fill an area of bisexuality.

Liam: Oh no, I definitely don’t think she is homophobic at all. I guess what I meant to say is that it’s likely to be more prevalent in the world she comes from. The film at least sets it up in that way, how she seems so disapproving of every other part of Maggie’s life, so it’s easy to conclude that she would disapprove of that. I guess it’s a clever spin on the conservative stereotype.

I think, if anyone, it makes Lila more of an outsider, since it focuses so much on the world of Maggie, Kim, Judy and Frances. But the addition of Judy also highlights the fear and prejudice within that very same community, which paints a more complex picture than a united front.

Christina Cox and Karyn Dwyer in "Better Than Chocolate"

Christina Cox and Karyn Dwyer in “Better Than Chocolate”

It definitely does go into cliché rom-com territory in the third act, which you can’t overlook. Without a doubt it’s full of heart and life and colour, but it gets a bit goofy at times, and not necessarily in the way it might have intended. A lot of places in the script were completely lacking in subtlety, especially when it seemed to be trying to tackle those big subjects like homophobia (and the arts, I guess?). As much as I liked Peter Outerbridge’s character and Judy I did find her storyline on its own to be overly sentimental, but I thought her relationship with Frances (played by Ann-Marie MacDonald) was awkward in a delightful and poignant way. I thought the storyline with the brother could’ve been fleshed out more, or cut completely.

Will: I’ll agree with you there, the subplots are much more interesting than the main story, as they are with so many other films. What I thought was interesting was the simple topic of lesbians though. After watching the film, I checked for a list of LGBT Canadian films, and found that most of them were either documentaries, or focused on gay men. Out of the approximately 60 titles I looked at, I can’t really recall coming across one that was about women, and they were usually centred on extreme cases of homophobia. So even though this one tackles those same ideas, it certainly wasn’t as focused on the outcast aspect as much as so many other Canadian LGBT films.

Now, forgetting about the fact that this has anything to do with the LGBT community, it manages to be a pretty successful rom-com. It does its best to stay out of the cliché aspects of the genre for much of the film. As a person who tries to avoid watching rom-com movies, this was one I could watch again. It’s pretty funny, has a very believable relationship at the heart of the film, and is as Canadian as it gets. Only in Canada would Judy knock out a homophobic skinhead and then apologize for hitting them.

Is Better Than Chocolate Essential Canadian Cinema?

Will: When it comes to calling it essential Canadian viewing, I would say that it is for a few reasons. It’s focused on an aspect of LGBT cinema that Canada doesn’t seem to spend much time on, and it’s very much a Canadian film. From the way someone will apologize for something that isn’t really there fault, to the way certain books are held at the Canadian border, it’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that this is a truly Canadian film. There’s a certain kind of accepting charm to the film that feels specifically Canadian. It’s quite possible that there’s a better LGBT Canadian film out there, but as a film that can manage to appeal to a wide audience, it may be hard to find something more pleasing than this film.

Liam: The film is fun, sexy, sensual, and hilarious at times. At others it made my eyes roll. Is it the best rom-com I’ve ever seen? Not really. Like a lot of other romantic comedies I find the subplots here more interesting than the main romance. Maggie and Kim are so happy and so in love, which is great for them, but less interesting to watch than, say, Maggie’s relationship with her mom Lila, or Judy’s relationship with Frances. Is it “essential” Canadian viewing? I’ll say yes, because for all its foibles and whatever else I might gripe about here it really does have a lot of charm that I hope all Canadians can enjoy.

The Final Verdict

Better Than Chocolate joins A Married Couple , The Dark Hours and The Sweet Hereafter on our Essential Canadian Cinema list. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!

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