Thursday, July 9, 1998

Dysfunctional family values

Movie: The Opposite of Sex

Posted on Thu, Jul 9, 1998 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

Sex always ends in kids or disease or relationships," says Dedee Truitt (Christina Ricci), the jailbait narrator of writer/director Don Roos' black comedy "The Opposite of Sex." Her comment accompanies a montage of the film's various loving couples. "That's exactly what I don't want. I want the opposite of all that."

She's not to be trusted. Sex -- with the sucker of the moment -- is the tool that the white-trash runaway from Louisiana wields to send several lives tumbling into upheaval. Ricci, the wide-eyed former child actor ("The Addams Family," "Mermaids") is on a ferocious roll after her performances in "The Ice Storm" and the forthcoming "Buffalo '66." Her Dedee is a vixen made in hell -- ready and willing to devour everyone in her path. Dedee kicks a chair onto her stepfather's coffin at his funeral, bolts from the trailer she shares with her mom and cons fundamentalist boyfriend Randy (William Scott Lee) into driving her to Indiana.

Once there she moves in with her gay half-brother, Bill (Martin Donovan), a gentle English teacher recovering from the AIDS death of his boyfriend, Tom. Bill is making do with his pretty but dim lover, Matt (Ivan Sergei). Dedee seduces Matt and proceeds to announce her pregnancy. She also butts heads with Tom's sister, Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), an old maid in training who is overprotective of Bill.

And that's only half of the complications, which mount giddily with practically every scene. Along the way, there's blackmail, a dead body, new and rekindled romances, and packs of sensation-hungry reporters.

"The Opposite of Sex" gets its sometimes cruel kicks from the steady turning of the knife, as Bill's comfortably numb existence descends into pure torment. Donovan makes a fine fit as the quiet, saintly soul who may be seething on the inside. And Kudrow, previously unable to push past her dumb-blonde role on TV's "Friends," is nicely cast as Bill's whiny, sex-denying mother hen.

But Ricci's Dedee is the mouthpiece for the film's satire of homophobia and upended relationships. "So, it's like if you were normal, you'd be in love," she tells the initially hard-to-get Matt. Later, she comments on a colorfully decorated urn: "That's typical gay."

Sex, love and commitment -- straight, gay and somewhere in between -- are all perfectly worthy of pursuit, whether combined or separately, according to Roos' line of thinking. Three decades after the sexual revolution, that remains a downright radical message.

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