Paulie: You think I’m a lesbian?
Mary: You’re a girl in love with a girl, aren’t you?
Paulie: No, I’m Paulie in love with Tori. And Tori is – she is in love with me, because she is mine and I am hers. And neither of us are lesbians.
Most of us knew girls like Paulie in school–girls who were so passionate about life, so intense, that they were both dangerous and awe-inspiring to those around them. In retrospect, they probably should have been doing therapy, or yoga, or anything other than falling desperately and violently in love with another girl.
But let me start at the beginning. Lost and Delirious, directed by Lea Pool, stars Mischa Barton as Mary, a new student in a girls’ boarding school who discovers her two roommates Paulie (Piper Perabo) and Tori (Jessica Pare) are lovers, only to watch them go through a horrific breakup when Tori can’t stand the peer pressure of being gay any longer.
In your typical lesbian-horror-story fashion, we watch Paulie begin to self-destruct as the one person who loves her rejects her. The lengths to which she goes to try and win Tori back become increasingly hazardous, to herself and others, until they ultimately end in tragedy.
Issues of sexuality aside for a moment, the film is brilliant in its ability to delve into the nuances of the girls’ world, to convey the richness and complexity of boarding school life (which is so often portrayed in a one-dimension or cartoonish fashion in films). It also demonstrates the ways in which the girls operate within their own subculture, with its own set of rules, while reluctantly adhering to those of the outside world when forced to choose.
That these rules are often conflicting makes for an interesting juxtaposition – for example, the scene of the formal dance on Parents Day shows the girls behaving in an entirely different way with one another and the adults than they do when their world is closed to “outsiders.” You very much get the sense that the girls are performing an act for the benefit of their parents and for society at large, and that once on their own again, they will fall back into the comfortable, more empowering rules of their subculture.
All of the actors are excellent,and Piper Perabo is hardly recognizable as the same woman from Coyote Ugly. She gives a multi-layered performance that is truly amazing to watch as it unfolds throughout the film.
That being said, there were one too many shots of Paulie’s falcon, especially towards the end – like we need more bird metaphors in film? And while the writing was strong in most of the film, the endless sonnet-quoting was tedious and a bit overwrought (e.g. repeated use of the phrase “Shall I abide in this dull world, which in her absence is no better than a sty?”). The plot developments were also fairly easy to see coming.
The overall message (“homophobia is bad”) is clearly and powerfully delivered, and the romantic and sexual relationship between Paulie and Tori is well-handled and realistic - too realistic for my taste.
I went to a girls boarding school, and I had a friend like Paulie (I’ll call her Sue). Sue was involved in a “secret” relationship with another friend (I’ll call her Katrina) that all the other kids knew about. Like Mary in the film, I was the “third wheel,” the one who didn’t quite know what was going on at first, even when we stayed over at Sue’s house and they put me in the guest room while they both slept in Sue’s room with the stereo turned up really loud.
Like Tori, Katrina broke it off with Sue our senior year, when Katrina’s parents found out about their relationship and began pressuring her not to see Sue anymore. Sue didn’t take it very well, but instead of jumping off a roof she started doing crank. Then selling it. Katrina went to college and joined a cult that brainwashed her and turned her into a Stepford wife, so that now she denies she was ever in a relationship with Susan at all.
I haven’t seen either one of them for years, for the same reason that I probably won’t watch this movie again: it’s too sad. And frankly, I’ve had enough of stories that end badly for lesbians/bisexual women.
It may well be true that if more straight people watched movies like Lost and Delirious, we wouldn’t have so many of those stories to tell. But for lesbians and bisexual women, it’s just another reminder of how far we still have to go before that happens.