Cinematic pairs: partners or lovers?


Lately I’ve been thinking about lover Cindi on The L Word. Well, not Cindi herself, but the “lover” thing. It’s hilarious every time Dawn Denbo says it, mostly because the word lover has gone out of favor. It used to be a common term in the gay community — or anywhere, really. Especially in the ’70s.

But now lover has the connotation of “f— buddy,” while partner or girlfriend is generally the preferred term for the people you want to keep around for more than just sex. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

So what makes a partner, and what makes a lover? Armed with my trusty (and dusty) DVD collection, I have conducted a sort of survey. I don’t suppose it’s educational in any way, but it was fun.

1. Cay and Vivian (Patricia Charbonneau and Helen Shaver), Desert Hearts

I just had to begin with a tricky one, didn’t I? Cay and Vivian definitely start out as lovers, but if Vivian had stayed, they might have become partners. Still, when I think of them, I don’t think of fun times or tender touches or home improvement. I think of steamy sex and mind-bogglingly deep kisses.

Verdict: Lovers (they have to remind themselves to stop long enough to get some food!)

2. Claude and Lucy (Alison Folland and Leisha Hailey), All Over Me

These two are so cute, I don’t care what you call them. But when they walk along with their ice cream and Leisha grins like that, it seems like a love that’s built to last.

Verdict: Partners (in a happily ever after sense)

3. Corky and Violet (Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly), Bound

Hmm. These two are carnal and star-crossed, but they also seem destined to be together. And the sizzle is accompanied by a sense that they’re on the same wavelength — they have a meeting of bodies and minds. I think I have my first tie.

Verdict: Partner-lovers (lesbian bed death will never strike!)

4. Agnes and Elin (Rebecka Liljeberg and Alexandra Dahlström), Show Me Love / F—ing Amal

They’re inexplicably drawn to each other in an opposites-attract sort of way. And they don’t even have sex, so that makes the lover label seem wrong. But it’s their alliance against the forces of narrow-mindedness that really makes them seem like partners. And such cute ones!

Verdict: Partners (who get lusty when they hear Foreigner songs)

5. Gia and Linda (Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Mitchell), Gia

Ouch. It breaks my heart just to think about these two. They get naked within minutes of meeting each other, but the looks that pass between them are soul-deep. I think they would have become partners, if Gia hadn’t run off with her lover — smack.

Verdict: Thwarted partners (can I get an alternate ending, please?)

6. Lucy and Syd (Ally Sheedy and Radha Mitchell), High Art

Hey, another cheerful movie! But I don’t know if these two would have made it even if Lucy hadn’t succumbed to her addiction. Syd was a fan, and that whole superstar-admirer dynamic doesn’t often bode well. Plus, if I were Lucy, I’d have chosen Greta (Patricia Clarkson) in the end. She was a fabulous disaster.

Verdict: Photogenic lovers

7. Randy and Evie (Laurel Holloman and Nicole Parker), The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love

I rarely like the endings of movies, but I love the way this film ended. Randy and Evie have an epic romance — poetry, opera and pot all figure in! — and at the end, they only have eyes (and ears) for each other.

Verdict: Partners (even though they’re too young to last very long)

8. Sarah and Miriam (Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve), The Hunger

Oh, the hotness! Dawn Denbo and her lover Cindi wish they were this sexy.

Verdict: Lovers (and vampires)

9. Radha and Sita (Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das), Fire

This movie is all about passion — the kind of passion you have to pursue even if it means facing physical harm and ostracism. And yet somehow, these two are much more than lovers. Or maybe they’re the kind of lovers of which myths are made.

Verdict: Partner-lovers (I picture them living happily in a small house somewhere, making amazing food and dancing)

10. Camille and Petra (Pascale Bussières and Rachael Crawford), When Night Is Falling

Another storybook pair. Yes, they run off to join the circus, but that doesn’t make them any less grounded and committed.

Verdict: Acrobatic partner-lovers

11. Luce and Rachel (Lena Headey and Piper Perabo), Imagine Me & You

As sexy as Lena is, these two don’t seem as sensual as they do lovey-dovey, probably because the film is so lighthearted. And I love it for that!

Verdict: Partners (who know how to yell)

12. Kitty and Nan; Nan and Florence (Rachael Stirling, Keeley Hawes and Jodhi May), Tipping the Velvet

A-ha! I think I have my archetypal pairs. Kitty and Nan are lovers in the best senses of the term, while Nan and Florence are a model for every kind of partnership. And both pairs prove that music (and a dashing wardrobe) improves your sex life.

Well, I didn’t even make it halfway through my DVD collection. If I were a thorough researcher, I’d have covered lots more, including recent films like Loving Annabelle and Itty Bitty Titty Committee. But I’d need more funding for such an extensive study. (And I limited myself to movies, so feel free to talk about TV pairs in the comments …)

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