Better Than Chocolate

Suggested reading:

The Lesbian Sex Book (1993), Wendy Caster

Bushfire: Stories of Lesbian Desire (1991), Karen Barber (Editor)

Early Embraces: True-Life Stories of Women

Describing Their First Lesbian Experience

(1996), Lindsey Elder (Editor)

If only Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) would stop smiling like a politician. She smiles in every scene, and it’s more a leer than a smile. She looks like someone who just got laid, hit the lottery, and finished traffic school at the same time. OK, I lied about the last two. It’s too bad, too, because she is the lead character in a story that is enjoyable to watch and worth going to see.

Canadian director Anne Wheeler’s Better Than Chocolate is a movie for women, about women. Mostly it’s about gay young women, but it is also moderately about larger issues, such as liberation and acceptance.

When Lila (Wendy Crewson), Maggie’s straight mother, comes to live with Maggie in Vancouver because her marriage has broken up, Maggie tries to hide her sexual relationship with Kim (Christina Cox), her vagabond new lover of several hours. This isn’t easy since Maggie makes a whole lot of noise when she and Kim are sharing their intimate sofa behind the curtain – the curtain that Maggie’s 17 year old brother Paul, who has come along with Lila, enjoys peeking through.

Maggie works at the Ten Percent Book Store, which has nothing to do with discount literature. As most people who see Better Than Chocolate will already know, 10% is the estimate of how much of the population is gay. As for any of the other 90% who come see this film thinking it’s about Willy Wonka, many will be shocked by the steamy female sex. But they’ll probably tell all their friends and come back to see it a second time. Speaking of course from a strictly filmic, non-prurient standpoint, both Maggie and Kim are well worth watching when they are tearing up the sheets and the stall in the ladies’ room, to say nothing about when they paint each other’s naked bodies with soft little brushes, making special red swirls around their…you know.

The title Better Than Chocolate refers not to sex but to love, which Lila is convinced she will never find again now that her husband has admitted he’s been screwing his partner’s wife for more than a year. Since love is doubtful and sex seems out of of the question, Lila has turned to chocolate. Then one night she drops her candy under her bed and while searching for it discovers the box of sexual enhancers Maggie has hidden there. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something latex. A few hours and one battery change later she has left her chocolate on the night stand for good.

This is a feel-good film. Judy (Peter Outerbridge), cabaret singer and transgender friend in the mode of The World According To Garp‘s Roberta Muldoon (John Lithgow), is excellent. The song she sings: Don’t F___ With My Tender, Cross-Gender Heart, is hysterical. Maggie’s manic smiling is tough to watch, and her attraction to butch Kim, who walks like Gary Cooper, is hard to explain, but it works. Perhaps it’s that Kim never smiles. No, it must be the sex.

The ending is very Hollywood. Gay girl gets gay girl, gay girl gets transgendered girl, straight girl gets vibrator, bi girl gets Maggie’s brother, Paul. Troubles are patched up, happiness arrives, and the vehicle seems to have been…not chocolate, and not love either. Sex, which makes the world go around, has led to acceptance. Friend Carla says it best (when she’s doing it in an open mall with jubilant Paul): "Do you like boys?" he asks her. She replies: "Hard centers, soft centers, I like all the chocolates in the box." This is a wonderful message. It makes us all feel good. Maybe that’s really what Maggie is smiling about.

– DAK