Welcome to Movie Night, where we rate movies entirely on how great the lesbian sex scenes are (so great) and whether the dog survives the movie (yes!!!).
It would be really easy to write a smug, cynical review of this movie. It has five out of ten stars on IMDB right now; much of the story is told in the form of awkward, dreamy flashbacks that seemed ripped from either an episode of The L Word or your last argument with your girlfriend; and while LGBTQ movies are almost always low-budget indie affairs, All About E is also an action flick, and suffers more from the technical limitations than other genres might.
That review would be easy and would miss out on the most important thing about this movie, which is that I loved it. Unrepentantly, with a full understanding of all of its flaws. It was a blast, it was sexy and romantic, the overarching drama was genuinely scary but not upsetting, and it contained one of the only lesbian sex scenes I have ever seen in a movie that made visual sense.
We chose All About E, an Australian road trip movie about a magnetic ne’er-do-well DJ, E (Mandahla Rose), her gay best friend, Matt (Brett Rogers), and her sweet, practical ex, Trish (Julie Billington), on a movie night when we didn’t want anything too depressing. Or thought-provoking. Honestly, the one-sentence Netflix summary made it sound like an absolute trainwreck, and that was great for us.
Then the movie started.
We enter a huge, loud, extremely gay Australian nightclub. People are dancing and shouting for E, an extremely successful DJ who will be coming on to perform any minute now. “Where is she?” the owner asks.
Cut to the bathroom. “Oh my God,” I said. “They’re starting with a make-out scene.”
“Uh-huh,” my beautiful wife, B, said.
It’s not a make-out scene. After enough smooching to satisfy but certainly not as much as I would have happily watched, E sits down on the gay club toilet and bangs this girl, and then she runs back out and performs.
It’s impossible to talk about All About E without talking about the incredible sexual presence Mandahla Rose puts into the main character. She’s beautiful, of course, but it’s a cop-out to say so. E is reckless and physical in a way that we only occasionally get to see with female characters. She bounces around the stage, jumps out of a car to go beat somebod(ies) up, and carries the momentum of the story with a very convincing energy. Much of the love story in All About E hinges on the idea that Trish is a practical, capable woman who doesn’t want to be jerked around but can’t help herself because she’d rather smooch this girl than live a quiet, drama-free existence.
That’s a really bold statement. It’s a really bold plot point. We all have our own levels of risk tolerance, but the list of people for whom I would cheerfully put myself and my dog in the path of some kind of angry organized crime killer dude (it’s never really specified) for sex is short. You need a really convincing person to play a character like that, and Rose does a good job. When they got back together, I felt a little bit worried for Trish… but also definitely jealous.
The plot can be spotty, and if you’re more worried about the logistics of how and why a story is happening than you are about LESBIANS and SMOOCHING and AUSTRALIA, that may be a problem for you. This definitely seems to be one of the things that is divided along sexual orientation lines. B and I didn’t care; it’s certainly no messier than DEBS. And I’m hesitant to criticize anyone who’s making gay indie movies on their plots. People need to come up through the ranks somehow, and as a viewer, I’d rather they do it making imperfect gay movies on a shoestring budget than sitting in a room with half a dozen other pros writing about straight people. If one of my friends came to me with this script, I think I would have said that she needed to trust herself more, spend a little less time trying to explain what happened between E and Trish before the movie started. But I can’t really complain, because I didn’t mind.
In looking over other people’s discussion of this movie, I saw some people who said that they felt like E was spoiled, selfish, and manipulative – one person went as far as to say “emotionally abusive” – and that they didn’t understand why the other characters in the movie put up with her. I want to address this specifically, because this is the sort of complaint which would keep me from watching a film I was considering.
Frankly, I don’t see it. There’s an incredible balancing act here between the pressures of E’s life in the closet, and the pressures created by her making bad choices, and it rang very true to me. E is often cruel to the other people in her life, and when she fights with her friends, her family, and Trish about her decision not to tell her parents, it gets nasty quickly. (“You’re a coward for not telling your family about me” – yikes. I feel like I’ve been on both sides of that conversation.)
I can’t help but wonder how much of the tendency to write E off as having used up all her chances is related to her race, her sexual orientation, and her gender presentation. Frankly, I have a have a hard time imagining that anyone would have this reaction if E had been played by Erika Linder. Or Cate Blanchett. Or Robert Pattinson. (And even Gugu Mbatha-raw, who plays in my opinion a similar but very femme’d up role in the San Junipero episode from Black Mirror, seems to have evaded such criticism.) The Strong, Silent Bad Boy Who Secretly Just Wants You To Love Him is such a cultural trope – regardless of what our opinions on that trope may be – that I’m shocked to see people missing it when they see E.
Unless, of course, we just refuse to believe that a butch-y Lebanese lesbian can ever redeem herself after breaking a quiet white girl’s heart.
Bechdel pass: We have reached the moment that lesbians once imagined in The Rule: I’m not even sure that there is a single conversation between two men which is not about a woman.
Body count: Eh, nobody we care about, nobody gay, nobody on-screen. And the dog lives!
Was it a phase? Nope!
Most redeeming feature: Great canoodling, JULIE BILLINGTON ON A TRACTOR
Recommended for: Netflix and chill? Ice cream and chill?