This is where the clichés really begin to pile up. Between Frances’ outburst at border patrol over her "obscene" books and Maggie’s nude protest toward the end of the film, many viewers will be ready to stage their own demonstrations by making use of the fast-forward command on their DVD players.
In fact, Better Than Chocolate is almost the consummate lesbian film: It exhibits everything good and everything flawed in the genre. While it can be sexy and fun, and it certainly plays to its audience, the film as a whole is cloying and heavy-handed in its messages and clumsy in its execution. The characters are caricatures at best and cartoonish at worst, representing various stereotypes without ever showing three-dimensional people.
This has humorous effects, certainly, but it also impedes the audience from ever getting to know any of these characters or truly sympathizing with any of them. The actors all do a fine job in their roles (especially convincing is Christina Cox as Kim), but the parts are overwritten, and the line between wacky comedy and intense melodrama is straddled too awkwardly.
Chocolate‘s strengths lie in its fringy scenes and the moments in which the campy humor is allowed to shine through. The little in-jokes for the lesbian community (like the names of the club and bookstore, The Cat’s Ass and the aforementioned Ten Percent Books) are cute and copious, and it’s very clear that the filmmakers know their audience well.
This sentiment carries into the kooky minor characters, from Frances (Ann-Marie MacDonald, who guest-starred as Julia in Season 3 of The L Word) and her horn-rims to Tony (Tony Nappo), the macho Italian guy next door. In Chocolate, the ancillary characters are much more fun because their occasional stereotypical behaviors don’t detract from the film.
Likewise, the campiest scenes are by far the most fun. Judy’s heartfelt rendition of "I’m Not a F—ing Drag Queen" is second only to the utter hilarity of Mom’s fateful run-in with a box of sex toys. When the film stops trying so hard to educate or make a statement about art, it really shines.
And surely one of the best reasons for viewing Chocolate is the romance between Maggie and Kim. It’s sweet in every way, and the chemistry is palpable right from their first, clandestine meeting.
The love scenes are plentiful and generally creative, occasionally involving things as diverse as body paint and bathroom stalls. And although the story line regarding Maggie’s inability to come out to her mom (and Kim’s insistence that she do so) is rather clichéd, it is after all an issue that countless gay couples still struggle with, giving the film some much needed relevance and context. If the movie works at all, it’s because of the Kim/Maggie romance at its center.
In short, Chocolate does serve up some great moments, and its heart is in the right place. It’s unfortunate that what is ultimately a cute, funny love story gets so padded down with melodrama and half-baked notions about art and expression, especially when it does camp so well.
However, a great deal of Chocolate‘s faults can likely be attributed to its age, and none of its errors is truly glaring enough to ruin the film if it’s viewed in the right spirit. It’s campy and fun, and despite the overly serious tone in some of the scenes, it makes for pleasant light viewing. Just be sure to have the DVD remote handy for the melodrama.
Watch the trailer here: