When we think about lesbianism, we often don’t take the idea of privilege into account–for very good reasons. But there are those of us who are privileged, and it does cause a divide between members of our community. While You Weren’t Looking does an excellent job of highlighting this in the context of South African society.
The movie follows two storylines: the shaky marriage of mixed-race couple Dez and Terri, and their daughter Asanda’s discovery of her own queerness.
Right off the bat we see two middle-aged women who are clearly still hot for each other. It’s great! After 20 years together, Dez and Terri still have passion in their marriage, but that doesn’t stop Terri’s suspicions that Dez has a wandering eye.
That quickly becomes the big question in the movie–is she or isn’t she cheating? Terri juggles between doing some on the ground investigating and ignoring the burning question entirely. And Dez definitely doesn’t endear herself to the audience, coming across as the ruthless real estate developer she is.
One thing the two women are in sync about is their daughter. Asanda has just turned 18, her only apparent concerns at the beginning of the film are her clingy boy toy and her queer theory class. That begins to change the night of her birthday when she kisses a random “boy” at a club.
A trip to a record store reveals she actually kissed Shado, a “tommy boy” from the township of Khayalitsha. All the same she’s hooked, and invites Shado over.
Shado immediately gets the third degree from Asanda’s maid of all people, who is also from a township and quick to point out that Shado isn’t worthy of mixing with the upper class. Shado’s not only going to mix, she’s going to take Asanda for a visit to the township!
Before leaving, she mistakes Dez and Terri’s room for the bathroom, startling a towel-clad Terri. It’s obvious the fear stems from Terri judging Shado as an intruder because she’s not the usual company they keep.
You’ve got to hand it to Terri though–she’s damn observant! When she tells Dez about the girls’ friendship, her wife asks if they’re having sex. Terri’s answer: “I don’t know, but she packs!”
Spoiler alert: Shado and Asanda do have sex, and it’s hot. While You Weren’t Looking delivers yet again on that front.
Now the mothers’ fears are not completely unfounded. There are some unsavory characters in the township, though Shado’s not one of them. Still, it’s a culture shock for Asanda, who can’t even understand their language, let alone how they get by.
Towards the end of the film what we have are two relationships that are threatening to end for very different reasons. In them we have the contrast of an old love that’s struggling and a new love that’s being explored. It makes for a nice mix.
While You Weren’t Looking is not without its flaws. It’s anticlimactic at times and ends abruptly. I wish I had more time with these characters and a better understanding of the motivations behind certain decisions. But the fact that I do want more is a testament to what the movie does right–deliver interesting characters and an intriguing plot.
Visit the film’s website to find out when it’s screening near you.