Messy lesbian drama makes for great cinema in “Reaching for the Moon”


I don’t usually go for films that span more than about a year or two of time (too much plot crammed into too little time). That’s why most biopics are usually so lame. So when I came across Reaching for the Moon in the program of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival my hopes weren’t too high, but I was wrong.

I fell in love with this film and its lead character Elizabeth Bishop. Yes, the Elizabeth Bishop, who I had actually never heard of. Call me a philistine, but I must be the only queer out there who hadn’t heard of the Pulitzer Prize-winning lesbian poet. Watching the film, I had no idea that it was based on true events: I was just amazed by the fact that there was a beautifully shot, totally heartbreaking depiction of the rise and fall of a 15 year romance between two women in the 1950s. As soon as it ended I went straight to The Strand Bookstore and purchased a book of her poems.

The film is based on Carmen L. Oliveira’s 2002 biography Rare and Commonplace Flowers. We meet 40 year-old Bishop (Miranda Otto, who you may remember from NBC’s cheesy Sex and the City rip off Lipstick Jungle) creatively blocked and in need of a vacation. She sets off to Brazil to visit an old friend/ex from college, Mary (Tracy Middendorf). Mary lives with her partner Lota (Gloria Pires) and at first Elizabeth and Lota are at odds, but it’s only because they want to bone so bad and when an allergic reaction to nuts sends Elizabeth to bed-rest and an extended stay, all self control goes out the window. Not even the sight of Bishop’s puffy, watermelon face post-allergic outbreak stops them from doing it. Up against a glass wall. In the rain.

Elizabeth becomes Lota’s main lady, but Mary remains living with them and adopts a child. It’s the messiest lesbian drama I’ve seen since Shane and Jenny got together in the last season of The L Word, but that is all overshadowed by the fact that Elizabeth is a brilliant writer/alcoholic and Lota’s a genius architect/rich lady about town. The two women’s brilliant ambition paired with their respective mommy and daddy issues lead them and the relationship into a downward spiral.

The characters left to most actors would most likely come off as self-indulgent and immature, but this love story was told with respect and heartbreaking truth. The images are stunning, Brazil is gorgeous, 1950s New York — perfect. But above all it tells the story of an artist struggling to fight her deep-seated belief that she is incapable of giving and receiving love.

Reaching for the Moon is the best lesbian drama I’ve seen in a long time.

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