If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000) focuses on lesbian lives in three different eras/segments over a forty year period, framed within a single house. This is a thoughtful, issue-driven drama about some of the challenges lesbians face, and the change in cultural attitudes over time towards women who love women.
It’s also a rare opportunity to see good acting, writing, and production quality in a lesbian-themed film.
The first piece is set in 1961 and it opens at a screening of The Children’s Hour, a movie that was at that time extremely provocative and controversial because of the suggestion of lesbianism as the central theme. We see two older women, watching the movie together with tears streaming down their faces. The viewer has to make the leap that if these women are at least sixty years old, they were born around the turn of the century and hit adulthood, possibly coming out to themselves and a select few other women, in the Twenties. So they have been probably been exposed to social scorn and ridicule their entire lives. This segment sets up that feeling of contemporary uneasiness between the couple and the society around them, but doesn’t fill in much of a backstory for the women.
Tragedy strikes when one of the women, Abby (Marian Seldes) is injured and her long time partner Edith (Vanessa Redgrave) cannot see her in the hospital. This piece is really about silence, and how Edith must remain silent about her relationship to Abigail, and then mourn silently. Much of the subject matter in 1961 is very timely to the recent focus on same sex marriage, since it deals not just with the emotional loss of a partner, but the rights lost because these women couldn’t claim each other as legal spouses.
“1972”, the second segment, is a story about Linda (Michelle Williams), an out lesbian in a group of budding young lesbian feminist college students, including her two best friends played by Natasha Lyonne and Nia Long. Linda and her friends decide to visit the gay bar in town for some consolation and adventure, but find a surprising clash of cultural values, philosophy, and wardrobe there. Not fitting into that environment either, the group decides to leave–but Linda, enchanted and intrigued by the politically incorrect butch lesbian Amy (Chloe Sevigny), decides to stay. Linda finds herself falling for Amy, she must deal with the disapproval not only of society as a whole, but her own friends, who mock Amy for her appearance.
I found this segment the one with the most potential, but the least interesting of the three. There was a great opportunity to explore what it means to be a butch woman, but instead it came off as stereotypical and relying far too much on suggestion instead of clear statements. It does serve as a short primer for folks not clear on the history of lesbian feminism and butch/femme dynamics, however.
The final segment,”2000″, introduces us to an affluent, middle aged lesbian couple in the process of trying to conceive a child. Ellen DeGeneres is hilarious and touching as Kal, the doting partner of Fran (Sharon Stone). This is a charming story of the agony, for two women, of not being able to bring about the intentional physical manifestation of love, a child, without outside intrusion/assistance. Ellen is surprisingly good in the role of the supportive, non-child bearing spouse who would like nothing better than to get her partner pregnant. Stone is a goofy, screwball femmey lesbian that shines in her moments of grounding the couple and showing tenderness to her partner.
This segment contains the notorious love scene between DeGeneres and Stone, which I found contrived but many others will likely enjoy; it was directed by Ellen’s then-partner, Anne “the mothership has landed in Fresno” Heche.
Overall, the casting and direction of this production is stellar, the writing makes the characters all seem very genuine to the experiences they portray, and the production values are professional and of the caliber you’d expect from HBO. This movie is a necessary addition to any queer film library–just make sure you have a tissue handy when you watch.