The Owls, (an acronym for older, wiser lesbians), is what you might call an experimental thriller, the product of an all-star group of lesbian film icons working as The Film Collaborative. Guinevere Turner, (Itty Bitty Titty Committee, The L Word) Skyler Cooper, V.S. Brodie, (Go Fish) star, alongside writer/producer Cheryl Dunye (famous for 1996 indie sensation The Watermelon Woman).
With several co-producers and producers, there are many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, and many of the main creatives share roles, making good on the “collaborative” title. As such, it’s a multi-layered, unique and thoroughly original project – part queer film criticism and part tense, enjoyable fiction.
The main storyline concerns the lives of four friends (though “frenemy” might be a more apt description), all washouts from the 1990s riot grrl/queer activist era. They are, ostensibly older, wiser lesbians (hence the title), though none of them can seem to get over the problems that plagued their youths.
Cheryl Dunye with Lisa Gornick in a scene from The Owls
Iris (Turner) is the former front woman of a wannabe riot grrl band called The Screeches. Sexy, screwed-up and completely washed out, Iris is a raging alcoholic who hasn’t taken very well to post-punk life. She’s sarcastic around her friends – especially ex-girlfriend MJ (Brodie), and almost always sucking down booze of one sort or another, but she’s easily the most fun (and possibly the most likeable) character in the piece.
MJ is a chronic masturbator who never leaves the house, not even when Iris attempts to sell it. She’s fiercely loyal and completely in love with Iris – something that gets everyone in big trouble towards the beginning of the film.
Carol (Dunye) is a pseudo-spiritual figure and a lover of art and poetry with an activist background. She’s partnered with Lily (Lisa Gornick), another former Screech (and Iris’ former lover, naturally). The pair is trying to get pregnant, despite having enormous hurdles in their relationship, not the least of which being they cannot seem to communicate with one another.
We first meet our crew at a party described by the now deceased Cricket (Deak Evgenikos), in a series of initially confounding interviews. We then follow their lives as Iris moves back into town, and the four buddies get down to the business of living, loving and sharing one very dark secret.
Deak Evgenikos as “Cricket”
Not long into the movie, Skye (Cooper), a sexy ex-soldier, comes upon the group, and decides to stay for a while, helping out around the house while she waits for repair parts for her motorcycle. Her arrival is out of the blue, and her effect on the other women is marked: She throws a monkey wrench into all of their already-dysfunctional relationships.
It all plays out in intertwined narrative scenes with “confessional” documentary footage. In fact, the confessionals are generally presented split-screen alongside other “story” footage, to better highlight all of those innermost thoughts.