Today I want to talk about the movie Better Than Chocolate.
This is a small budget, late 1990s Canadian film about a lesbian couple named Kim and Maggie, but there is also a side-plot romance between a trans woman named Judy and a bookstore owner named Frances. This fact alone–that there is a trans lesbian couple in the late 1990s–is a huge selling point for the movie in terms of inclusivity and diversity. Though a cis actor plays Judy, I still think the film hits some of the right note in terms of trans representation, and because of this, I actually did discuss this film in my PhD dissertation.
But there are still so many other reason why I love this movie. I’m posting a clip of the beginning song and dance sequence right now, because… look at this song and dance sequence.
When I showed this movie to one of my girlfriends, she thought it was just the corniest thing she’d ever seen. But so what? That is one of the main reasons why I love this movie. It is corny. It is ridiculous. It is basically a coming out story for almost all the characters as they fall in love (including Maggie’s mother and her brother) and it just fills me with joy to watch. No matter how many times, this movie still makes me feel joyful. The 1990s music, like this dance sequence, the use of the Sarah McLaughlin lyric as the title, and the song by Judy called “I’m not a Fucking Drag Queen” …. Also—and this is very important for me—the character of Kim is an artist. There is a “paint sex” scene in this movie that has been a huge inspiration for me for a long time. In my work, in my life… yes.
I just love the vibe of this whole movie.
As a slight warning (or maybe endorsement?) this film has a lot of sex in it. That can seem really aggressive (especially if we start thinking about the issues surrounding the lesbian sex in Blue is the Warmest Color) but I find all these scenes sweet. There is a lot of nudity, and again, that can seem exploitative–but the movie makes it seem genuine and natural to the characters and their relationship arc. One of the main plots of the film is that the bookstore, which is an LGBT one, is being shut down due to the obscene content in its titles. This is actually based on a real life event that happened in Vancouver, and that Sarah Schulman has discussed in her work, so I won’t go into it too much here (and will encourage you to check out Schulman if you’re curious). But one of the protesting scenes, where Maggie strips down to nothing but a sign that says “Obscene Lesbian” and stands in the store’s front window, still gives me chills. When I was trying to come out as bi at nineteen, and no one seemed to take me seriously anymore, I thought of Maggie often. I love Maggie as a character, and Kim as a love interest, just about as much as I love Judy and Frances, too.
Now, with my degree and my own love life in a better place, I find myself relating to the bookish Frances more. She’s a pot-smoking business owner who just wants to get her titles back on the shelf. She’s also played by Anne Marie MacDonald, who has several titles of her own under her belt, some of which I read while in grad school (Fall on Your Knees) or taught to first years in grad school (Goodnight Desdemona).
In short, I love Better Than Chocolate. And I hope you do too!