Review of “It’s In the Water”

There are a lot of things wrong with the 1998 film It’s in the Water, including cliched writing and bad acting, but there are some things right about it, too, particularly when it comes to the film’s lesbian love story.

The independent film, directed by Kelli Herd, is about the residents of small, conservative Texas town and their reaction when some of the most unexpected people start coming out of the closet — specifically, the son of the town’s conservative newspaper editor, who falls in love with a local painter, and the daughter of a high society couple who falls in love with her former best friend from high school.

Alex (Keri Jo Chapman) is in a stable but unhappy marriage when her old high school friend Grace (Teresa Garrett) moves back into town after ending her abusive marriage. Shortly after they get reacquainted, Alex discovers that Grace’s marriage ended partly because she was having an affair — with another (female) nurse.

Alex (Keri Jo Chapman), left and Grace (Teresa Garrett)

Alex is surprised to discover that Grace considers herself a lesbian now, and it causes her to finally examine her own marriage and her attraction to Grace.

The characters of Alex and Grace are realistic, complex and interesting, and their relationship develops in a believable and appealing manner.

The sexual tension between them builds realistically as they start spending more time together, and Alex’s transformation from a confused and unhappy housewife torn between duty and desire to a passionate and self-confidant woman willing to leave her husband for Grace and risk social condemnation is very convincing.

Both Chapman and Garrett do a good job with their roles, although Garrett is a little too stilted with her delivery in some places. There are a few very funny scenes with one or both of them, including one in which Alex secretly rents a bunch of lesbian movies to try and find out what it’s all about.

John Hallum as Alex’s over-the-top gay best friend Spencer is funny in places, and boringly predictable in others, and many of the other supporting characters are downright annoying, including Nancy Chartier as the homophobic socialite and Barbara Lassiter as Alex’s homophobic mother.

The men’s love story is less interesting than the women’s, as well, partly because the lead actor isn’t very convincing and his lines are much worse than either Grace’s or Alex’s.

The writing overall could use a softer touch (except the female love story, which seems to have escaped most of the bad dialogue). Although it is laudable that the director deals with topics like homophobia, AIDS, etc., she should give her viewers more credit: monologues about prejudice and painfully obvious jokes about being gay are so 1980s, and about as subtle as a Christina Aguilera video.

With only a few exceptions, the film’s heterosexual characters are completely stupid across the board, and the storyline about local residents believing a rumor that you can become gay by drinking tainted water stretches all credibility. I know it’s supposed to be funny to make these characters so over-the-top, but cardboard-cutout stereotypes aren’t any funnier applied to straight people than to gay people.

I don’t want to overemphasize these problems, however — overall, the film is cheesy but enjoyable. There aren’t many lesbian romantic comedies about middle and upper-middle-class women, and that combined with the two strong female leads, an interesting story, and good production quality make this film better than most independent lesbian films, and worth watching.

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