“‘Look at what we did’ out of our love.”
The LGBT equality movement has come a long way since 1962. Nine states now legally recognize marriages between same sex couples. For the couples portrayed in the HBO original film If These Walls Could Talk 2, the world we live in would be nearly unrecognizable, beautiful. It would be a brave new world.
If These Walls Could Talk 2 looks at the lives and trials of lesbians from distinct vantages, moving through time. Separated into three vignettes based on time period, If These Walls Could Talk 2 stars Vanessa Redgrave (1961), Michelle Williams and Chloë Sevigny (1972), and Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres (2000).
1962 depicts the grim reality of the golden years for longtime couple, Edith (Redgrave) and Abby (Marian Seldes). When Abby slips and falls from a ladder, she suffers a stroke and, in the night – sequestered away from Edith – dies. Abby’s passing, a sad event in any right, spells a relative disaster for Edith who must then deal with Abby’s next of kin, a mousy nephew (Paul Giamatti) and his grabby wife (Elizabeth Perkins), swooping in to take what’s “theirs”.
This episode always makes watching If These Walls Could Talk 2 so difficult. Redgrave’s portrayal of a grieving widow (for all intents and purposes) who is reduced to little more than Abby’s longtime friend, is absolutely gut wrenching. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, her performance brings me to tears – not only in the face of her onscreen tragedy, but in the face of its despicable truth.
That despite their years together the two had little if any legal right in relationship to the other is a strong reminder to appreciate what we have and continue to push for a wider, more inclusive level of equality.
In 1972, Michelle Williams plays women’s libber and proud lesbian, Linda, who finds herself at odds with her friends when she becomes involved with a butch, crazy attractive, motorcycle riding, tie wearing young woman named Amy (Sevigny).
Linda and her friends, all lesbian feminists, are fighting for inclusion at the university they attend. Inclusion which is conditional and fragile given the women’s sexual orientation. Wanting to distance themselves from the controversy of the women’s sexuality, the women’s rights group ousts them.
At a time when lesbians are fighting against stereotypes and gender roles, Linda’s attraction to Amy ( who reflects a butch/femme lesbian ideal) causes a backlash for Linda and her friends.
The chemistry between Sevigny and Williams is palpable but only takes the segment so far. Hindered by its musical scoring and dodgy supporting performances, 1972 is as corny as it is sexy. Regardless, if you like the idea of seeing Sevigny in butch garb, the segment deserves a viewing.
In 2000, Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres play Fran and Kal, a couple trying desperately to start a family. The vignette follows the challenges, both emotional and physical, the two endure as they search for sperm donors and attempt to get Fran pregnant.
This often funny segment is heart warming. Written and directed by Anne Heche, DeGeneres’ girlfriend at the time, 2000 features Degeneres’ trademark comedic timing and some uncharacteristically dramatic moments.
For the time, it also depicts some of the more explicit sex scenes between its two leads. The first time I saw the film back in 2001, I remember being pleasantly surprised/shocked that Stone and DeGeneres actually did more than kiss. It was a moment that, for me, signified a not -so-subtle shifting, a change. We were beginning to be included, to be noticed, to be taken seriously.
I often wax on and on about the importance of seeing ourselves, or some semblance thereof, reflected in the media. Humans are pack creatures, after all. As much as we want to be unique, we also long for community. We crave acceptance. We want to belong. In 2000 when If These Walls Could Talk 2 aired, having this many “big” names attached to a project of its nature was practically unheard of. It’s one of the things that makes it unique and noteworthy.
A long time fan of Stone, her involvement in the project was like being given a gift – the gift of recognition from an actress who still had plenty to lose from her participation in a film of this nature.
The film lends itself well to follow-ups and is, itself, a sequel to the intensely controversial If These Walls Could Talk which centered around the topic of abortion. Outside of the 1961 segment, the film as a whole has a tendency to air on the side of being cheesy. I feel this was a mistake and a missed opportunity. It suffers from wanting to be too much to too many people instead of choosing an audience and catering to them.
Still, If These Walls Could Talk 2 warrants a serious look based solely on the merits of its first segment. Come for the herstory lesson, stay for the sizzle.
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Watch or buy If These Walls Could Talk 2 on Amazon