butch jamie (2007)

Wednesday. 3:26 AM and the insomnia hasn’t lifted despite the Bonnie Raitt playlist I’ve got cued up to complement my plastic sippy cup of Jameson’s. So what better thing to do than tell you about a recent experience I had watching a gay and lesbian Instant Netflix with my bud Rel.  Her partner was out of town and mine has grown weary of my eternal adolescence so we were primed for a serious bro down, complete with some boxed butternut squash soup and herbal tea.  My dog couldn’t really get on the couch at Rel’s place since he’s been bleeding from his dick for the last couple of weeks – a hump session gone awry, immediate folks in my life are pushing hard for a castration, but goddammit if I don’t love that little fucker’s marble-sized balls – so we got down old-school style on the floor – minus the popcorn and sexual tension.  Rel was ready to follow this queer film aficionado to the ends of the earth and I pushed them there alright – by recommending the seemingly innocuous Butch Jamie for our viewing pleasure.  But pleasure quickly turned to pain as we subjected ourselves to some of the most confusing eight-four minutes I’ve spent in recent memory, discounting the last cab ride I took from Manhattan to Bushwick.

Here’s the deal.  Butch Jamie is the story of a butch actress just trying to get by in LA.  An early scene features Jamie donning a hideous drag and listening to a getting-to-know-my-inner-lady audio tape in the waiting room for an audition she’s about to go on while a couple of straight girls laugh at her. It sounds heartbreaking, I know.  But that’s precisely the problem with this exceedingly troubled film – it’s unwilling (or just plain unable) to go to any places where a modicum of intelligence and depth can be relayed to the viewer.  After her humiliating audition fails as expected – this is not a film of surprise – Jamie has a heart to heart with her fag bangle David who originally encourages her to be herself.  Audition #2, Jamie “butches out” (similar language has been applied to yours truly by a progressive press) by reciting a gender-neutral monologue in a high school conference room and BAM – she lands the part!  (And it really does hit you, but it’s more like taking an elbow to the eye on a crowded subway car than waking up to find a butoh dancer straddling your face in a West Elm ad.)

Jamie’s feelin’ peachy about the job – until she finds out the suits want her to play a man.  Here’s where the movie gets dumb.  Because Jamie is deeply disturbed by the casting choice and nearly turns it down – not because it’s a no-money piece of garbage project, but because she’s shocked by the possibility of cross-gender casting.  The dumb factor is only increased by the producers’ insistence that Jamie hide her identity onset.  Let the hijinks begin!  Insert the “Toootsie” makeover montage! – complete with glue-on facial hair that would have the entire staff at Ricky’s head-bowed with shame.  (See above photo as evidence.)

Anyway, film shoot pending, those sideburn extensions aren’t the only thing that’s got our gender troubled heroine in a tizzy.  She’s also living with a maniacal cat lover named Lola who’s pimping her little princess out on auditions with a fervor that puts Jamie’s career aspirations to shame.  The cat’s making money!  And when BJ discovers Lola’s bisexual to boot, she goes into confusion overload. Lola (played by endearing amateur Olivia Nix) is actually the single voice of sanity in the film and even has some interesting things to say about fluidity and power dynamics in queer relationships, but after seventy minutes her philosophical musings were falling on pretty deaf and numbed ears.

A frustrating thing about watching a movie like this is that I’m already conceding to a lowered bar.  I know the production values are going to be shit, half the actors were cast via e-mail, and that the writing will be mediocre at best.  But why is it that if I want to watch something of quality in the GLBTQ section, it’s gotta be some depressing-ass documentary about discrimination or heartache?  Why is it I’ve been able to review about one solid rom-com for this site?  I think an old-fashioned way to think about cinema is through the lens of escapism and I make a big window for fantasizing with little at my disposal.  But when I sit down with fellow astute queers, they leave bad art feeling ashamed and decidedly not turned on in direct relation to poor representations of “their” lives.  But if these aren’t representations of our lives, whose are they?

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