A review of “The Casserole Club”

The Casserole Club is a wildly colorful 1960s period piece with far more bite than a first glance at its pastel hues would indicate. The film examines the vapid lives of several suburban 1960s couples and the wild “sexy parties” they stumble into, under the guise of casserole recipe contests among the women. You could read it as a form of bloodless suburban horror, or a treatise on the need for sexual exploration, depending on your personal views.

The characters are an assortment of sad suburban types. Conrad (played by former Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson) is an angry, controlling alpha male married to Sugar (Susan Traylor). They live in a loveless marriage, and carry out a life as plain and pretty and empty as their sherbet-hued house.

They’re friends with Jerome (Daniela Sea, best known as Max from The L Word), a funky, self-described poet and her sweetheart husband, Leslie. Rounding out the gang are Max and his self-conscious wife Marybelle, free spirited Florence and her equally free-spirited hubby Burt, and Sterling (a closeted gay man) and his wife Kitty.

It’s pointed out early on in the film that each couple is childless, which is in itself a little weird for the conformity-happy ’60s suburbs. It’s also a sign that each marriage is lacking in the physical arena, and our first clue that these wildly unhappy, horny people are in need of something else in their lives.

We begin with one of the first casserole parties, which starts innocently enough – the couples mix and mingle and make corny jokes. They vote on the various, iffy-looking foodstuffs, the men voting for their women, the women competing for affection and attention of everyone at the table. Things start to go sideways when Conrad starts a bizarre discussion of the etymologies of male and female sexual insults, and things just get saucier from there. They move on from dinner to a number of increasingly raunchy party games.

Soon, the alcohol starts to flow in earnest, and the building sexual tension among various pairs bursts into a complete, orgiastic frenzy. The otherwise shy and “ladylike” Marybelle first demurs, then gives in to Conrad’s advances. Jerome laughs and drinks her way through the evening. Sugar and Max get it on in a big way. The stage is finally set for the serious drama to come.

The parties continue every so often, with the wild sex occurring in the pool, in bedrooms and bathrooms, between men and women, men and men, and women and women.

Lady on lady (and for that matter, man on man) love occurs less often than the boy on girl sex, but it does come up every so often during the casserole parties. One particularly great scene involves Jerome and Sugar making shadow puppets on the wall, laughing at the absurdity, and then making love on the bed. Sterling has a scene with another man, who almost says no thanks to his Christianity.

It’s worth noting, however, that this film contains perhaps 50% more bare boy bottoms than you will typically see in a film that’s even partially about queer or bisexual women.

Everyone in the film has some kind of secret. Sterling’s is clearly his sexuality. After encountering his Christian friend post-party, he comes home to Kitty and cries in her arms, sobbing alongside her empty promises that everything will be all right. Sugar is utterly empty. She falls in love with Max, using him as a replacement for the miserably boring existence she ekes out. Marybelle is almost pathologically self-conscious and image-obsessed, which drives Max away. Leslie is just plain sad, and Jerome is a mystery. Her motivations are clouded by her need to get high and escape the rigid social mores of the times.

Kevin Richardson absolutely shines as Conrad, the most screwed up cat of them all. On the surface, he’s all smiles and dirty jokes and pastel polo shirts – a regular sexy ’60s man. Underneath, he’s an angry, self-harming alcoholic, barely in control of his emotions and utterly in contempt of his wife, whom he clearly cannot stand. Throwing an ex-boy band member into a role like this could have reeked of stunt casting, and for the first few scenes, the jury is out. At first, Conrad just seems like a jerk. Then we get a peek at what lies beneath the surface, and it’s far from pretty.

Also particularly excellent is Daniela Sea, who could’ve also easily been a piece of weirdo stunt casting (the promotional materials all but promise a backstreet boy and an L Word actress in every scene). She is fantastic as Jerome, the most outwardly “alternative” person of the bunch.

It’s also interesting — and fun — to watch Sea in ’60s garb, femmed up (to some degree) from the roles most lesbian filmgoers are used to seeing her in. Sea plays a bored, wild-spirited ’60s housewife better than nearly anyone else in the flick (save, possibly, Pleasant Gehman). She also rocks the ’60s fashion like none other.

The costumes and sets are in a league of their own. Somebody clearly had a ball putting together a swinging ensemble that’s almost as much Austin Powers as it is Catch Me If You Can. It’s a brilliantly colorful film, and the soundtrack is as kitschy and catchy as the visuals are bright.

The Casserole Club offers a bizarre, compelling, and ultimately fascinating ride through the outwardly pretty yet-horrific lives of “normal people”. Come to see Daniela Sea in outfits that would make Cher blush, stay for the surprisingly deep analysis of suburban hell.

The Casserole Club is out on DVD and available from Breaking Glass Pictures.

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