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'Opposite': Cynical Pleasures

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 1998

  Movie Critic

The Opposite of Sex
Lisa Kudrow stars in "The Opposite of Sex." (Sony)

Don Roos
Christina Ricci;
Martin Donovan;
Lisa Kudrow;
Lyle Lovett;
Johnny Galecki
Running Time:
1 hour, 40 minutes
Sexual activity, innuendo and bone-deep cynicism
"The Opposite of Sex" has nothing nice to say about anyone, so of course I want it to come sit next to me.

One of those odd little jobs sustained by a spirit of pure, studied rancor, it's not for the sugary of disposition or the compassionate of temperament. It's for misanthropes, grumps, old fuds and those for whom life has the perpetual whiff of ammonium distillate.

Generically, it's a kind of film noir, genre small town, subgenre femme fatale, subsubgenre teen tart. It's "Lolita" with guns – well, one – the death of hope and wondrous contempt for all things sweet and positive.

What hits you right away is the movie's main trick, a trick of voice; it's told in the laconic, surly rhythms of a youth so disaffected she's possibly diseased, too, at least in the spirit. She's the unsympathetic narrator, who is mightily amused by the pain she is causing and whose languid coldness and lack of moral affect is meant to shock us even as it amuses us. It's like listening to "Agamemnon" as narrated by Clytemnestra doing a Valley Girl impression.

"My mother," says Dedee Truitt, early in the film, "always says she's the kind of mom who's also her daughter's best friend. Great. That means my mom is a jerk and my best friend is a loser bitch."

Dedee suggests words with a juicy lop sound to them: trollop, lollipop, polyp. The grave child-actress Christina Ricci plays Dedee with a deadpan venom behind blue eyeballs a yard wide and an inch deep.

She is evil, but she is our evil: She's what we have created of our children, formed by broken marriages, child abuse, political cynicism, ineffective education, no hope and a sex-obsessed, violence-worshiping entertainment industry. The pain she brings to us is the pain we gave her as her birthright; we created her. We deserve her.

Dedee is so cynical she makes Monica Lewinsky look like a Camp Fire Girl. She wouldn't have left the White House without a six-figure advance from Revlon in a Swiss bank account. When Dedee's stepdad dies, she pushes her weepy mom – who never protected her from his groping – into the grave and throws a folding chair in after and feels good about it. After all, her mom, like, bites. Then Dedee lights up a cigarette and hits the road, up from Louisiana to a perfect American small town, dateline darkest Indiana.

There, she discovers love, loyalty and conscience and sets out to destroy them, with one end in mind: Get the money.

She moves in with her kind, decent, gay half-brother Bill (Martin Donovan) and promptly seduces his lanky boyfriend, Matt (Ivan Sergei). Then she and Matt take off after generating a scandal that will destroy Bill, a popular high school teacher, and also after lifting $10,000 from him. Bill of course goes after them.

Vengeance? No, Bill is too nice. He loves Matt and he cares for Dedee.

"You're a death wish waiting to happen," says Bill's best friend, his thwarted female love interest Lucia (Lisa Kudrow, shorn of her "Friends" mannerisms and perfectly capturing Lucia's snippy, prim frustration).

"How hot does it have to be," he replies wearily, "before you stop analyzing me?"

In some sense, Dedee is the truth that none of these people will quite face. Sex, she argues, can mean death these days, so you'd better get it working for you or it'll work against you. She stands for the principles of reality and survival, and against the sentimentalists of Indiana, as she qualmlessly advances her own agenda, in a way punishing them for their delusions. Life, she argues, is cruel; you fools who believe in love must be crushed for your idiocy.

When the issue of her many congresses advances into the world, about a hundred plot twists into this twisty, dark, knock-out-funny little movie, she looks at his squiggily, bald, as-yet-incomplete head, his gravy of blood and mucus, and listens to his red-faced yelp of life and thinks out loud: "Ugh. I can't stand the soft spot."

Dedee hates love – which, as all students of Life for Dummies know, means she really yearns for it, and under her old French Whore's armor is really a young heart beating desperately for a little tenderness. It's to writer-director Don Roos's eternal credit that in the end, and without a tremor of regret, he merrily subverts his own carefully crafted darkness. You could paint this one black, but underneath the black, there's plenty of white for the yearning to connect, for hope, for that crapola called, ick, love. It's a terrific movie.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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