It's a beautiful day outside in Barcelona, Spain. I open my eyes, see A sitting up and looking far too perky for one p.m. in the afternoon. I groan "pizza" at her before rolling over and hoping the effects from yesterday's all-nighter will eventually fade from my poor, haggard 28 y/o body. Barcelona has great clubs. I continue to deny that I'm over 25.
Enter: Boys on the Side (1995)
A is a big Drew Barrymore fan, and when the pizza arrived, I had the sudden urge to watch Sister Act I & II in succession, an idea which was quickly shot down. After scrolling through Netflix for twenty minutes arguing about what to watch, we eventually settled on Boys on the Side, due to our dual love for Mary-Louise Parker, my apparent need for Whoopi Goldberg and the fact that there were some definite queer undertones involved.
The story is fairly simple. Whoopi Goldberg plays Jane, a lesbian nightclub singer who just broke up with her girlfriend, got fired and then ditched by her band. She needs to get to L.A. and Robin (Mary-Louise Parker), an anally retentive real estate agent wants a companion for a road trip she's taking to relive some childhood memories. Along the way they pick up Holly (Drew Barrymore), a bubbly but mildly insane twenty-something with a penchant for men who beat the shit out of her.
Once the three women are together, the movie hits full throttle covering everything from domestic abuse, HIV / AIDS, race, and sexuality. However, above all else, it's a story about friendship and love.
If you're looking for a female driven film which focuses on relationships between women, both romantic and not, then this film is definitely for you. It brings together three very different characters, and builds a story that addresses their differences but doesn't necessarily focus on them. After only a short period of time, the social and racial differences between the women become invisible as their friendship grows into something more familial - with Jane and Holly sticking around to support Robin when she is hospitalized due to the progression of her AIDS infection (in spite of Holly being semi-on-the-run from the police).
In an era where AIDS was primarily associated with gay men, it was refreshing to see Robin - a middle class white woman - facing the reality of what it meant to be infected with HIV; even if her diagnosis ultimately leads the film down the dreary path of the dead lesbian trope.
That trope isn't alone, and the film definitely hits a few stereotypes for lesbian stories. However, the relationship which develops between Jane and Robin over the course of the film feels natural, and because of this, is equally as heartbreaking. Robin's journey in particular in regards to her feelings will lead many who have had previous sexual experiences or relationships with men to nod their heads in understanding.
For a dramedy made over two decades ago, it's handling of queer content is admirable. It's also brash, a little in your face and unapologetic about the powerful women leading the story.
I watched this film a few weeks ago, but the recent news regarding Elizabeth Gilbert and her terminally ill best friend Rayya, brought it back to the forefront of my mind.
It's a powerful film about women which has been given a solid 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has a good dose of laughs, but will also bring you to tears. It's packed full of 90s nostalgia, and although depressing in the closing half hour it does end on a hopeful note. So, if you find yourself dying of a hangover on a Sunday and ignoring a gorgeous day outside, hit this up on Netflix - just don't forget your tissues.