The truth about The Truth About Jane (2000) is that it’s a pretty good movie. Alternately cheesy, angsty, humorous, and occasionally melodramatic, it has all the hallmarks of a classic coming-out narrative combined with excellent acting.
The movie, which is directed by Lee Rose and originally aired on the Lifetime network in 2000, tells the coming-out story of 16-year-old Jane (played by Ellen Muth), the daughter of Janice (played by Stockard Channing) and Robert (James Naughton). The film works overtime to present her as An Average American Teen who has friends, a good relationship with her parents, and does well in school. Still, she feels different from her friends, but can’t put her finger on it. When her friends tease her about the new boy in school being interested in Jane, she asks herself “Why wasn’t I like my friends? Why couldn’t I just like a boy named Ned?”
Then she meets Taylor (played by Alicia Lagano), who is very comfortable with being gay (although it’s never clear whether she’s bisexual or a lesbian). The two girls get into a relationship, and Jane struggles to make sense of the implications even as she is deliriously happy with Taylor. She keeps the revelation from her parents, but her brother sees Jane and Taylor kissing one day, and rumors start to spread. Finally, all hell breaks loose when Jane’s parents get an anonymous phone call telling them their daughter is a lesbian.
The first half of the film is Jane’s story, but the second half is really about Janice and her issues with Jane’s sexual orientation. This shift signifies the overall message of the film–that Janice is the one with the problem, not Jane. It’s homophobia, not homosexuality, that is bad.
Other characters who figure into the story include Ms. Wolcott, Jane’s lesbian teacher who helps her realize that being gay is okay (played by The O.C.‘s Kelly Rowan, who also plays a big homophobe in the Showtime movie A Girl Thing, also directed by Lee Rose), and RuPaul as Jimmy, Janice’s long-time black gay friend. Ned, the new boy in school, is interested in Jane and remains friends with her throughout the harassment by her classmates (Ned is played by Noah Fleiss, who also appears in the gay-themed movies Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her and The Laramie Project).
The film is careful to counter the stereotype that lesbians hate men, and portrays men in a fairly positive light. Ms. Wolcott’s response to Jane’s question about when she first knew she was gay was “It’s not that I didn’t like men, but just felt connected to women in a different kind of way, a way I’d never felt with a man.” Ned is one of the only kids who stands by Jane after she comes out, saying “I’m still your friend, no matter who you sleep with.” When he defends Jane one day from taunting classmates, Jane says in a voice-over “At that moment, if I were straight, I’d marry Ned.”
Jane’s dad is presented as the more enlightened of the two parents; although he also doesn’t want his daughter to be gay, he continually admonishes his wife that they “can’t just pretend this is happening” and that they have to help Jane through this.
The movie also tries really hard to drive home the point that homosexuality is not a choice, emphasizing repeatedly that Jane was predestined to be gay, as in this voice-over by Jane: “I was gay, with or without Taylor. I knew it deep down for a long time. But what my mother didn’t know was I was exactly who I was supposed to be, whether she liked it or not.”
Although most of the film is serious, there are some humorous moments, like when Jane’s dad takes her to a soccer game and she says “Dad, don’t think I all of a sudden like sports because I’m gay” or when Jane catches Janice smiling at her and Ned, and Jane teases her “Don’t even think about it, mom!”
Perhaps the most powerful point in the film is when some of Jane’s classmates call her names in front of her mother, and when Janice looks horrified, Jane asks her scornfully “Why do you care what they say? You’re just like them.” This is meant to drive home the film’s message that parental intolerance is equivalent to overt homophobia.
A second runner up for best moment is when Jane’s brother calls her a dyke at dinner one night, and she leaps across the table and starts beating on him.
The Truth About Jane does have an afterschool-special feel to it at times, most noticeably in Jane’s extensive support system and the movie’s too-neat wrap-up. Few gay teens have either an out-and-proud family friend like RuPaul’s character in whom to confide, or a lesbian teacher like Ms. Wolcott willing to risk her career to provide her with support–let alone both. And the ending is not only cheesy but extremely unrealistic.
But it’s a sign of progress when we can criticize a movie about a lesbian teenager for being too gay-friendly and supportive. Everyone likes to make fun of the Lifetime woman-in-peril movies (myself included), but there’s no getting around the fact that no other network on broadcast or cable television so far has made a film about a lesbian teenager.
At the end of the day, if the question is whether this movie will help gay teenagers–and some parents of gay teenagers–the answer is a resounding “yes.” The fact that it’s entertaining, as well, is just an added bonus.