Long before science made the connection, women the world over have known that in lieu of sex, the brain will accept chocolate.

But love, that's another story, as a pair of pretty young things discover in "Better Than Chocolate," a breezy, sometimes downright raunchy romantic comedy about putting the lid on the Godiva and learning to love not only friends, family and partner but, most of all, yourself.

Directed by Anne Wheeler and written by co-producer Peggy Thompson, this Canadian ensemble piece takes many of its cues from "The Bird Cage," except that Wheeler's tone is more affectionate than farcical, and in this case, the lovebirds are a couple of foxy young lesbians.

Maggie (Karyn Dwyer), an angelic performance artist with a halo of curly ginger-colored hair, is instantly smitten with Kim (Christina Cox), a blond portrait painter who rescues her from a gang of skinheads. The two can hardly keep their hands off each other until Maggie's distraught suburban mom, Lila (Wendy Crewson), and her 17-year-old brother, Paul (Kevin Mundy), show up at her doorstep.

Lila has left her cheating husband, so she and Paul have nowhere else to go. Maggie hasn't told her family about her sexual orientation and fears they'll discover her secret, never mind the many battery-operated erotic devices a friend has stored in the apartment. With this setup, high jinks should ensue, but they don't.

Judy (Peter Outerbridge), a transsexual cabaret singer, rescues Lila, who's feeling sorry for herself back at the apartment while Maggie and Kim help out at a discount bookstore. Bearing flowers, wine and a soothing manner, Judy pays a visit to Lila, who is thrilled to meet such an elegant woman and one with whom she has so much in common. In no time, the two are sharing decorating tips and cocktail hours.

Lila doesn't notice Judy's Adam's apple or her manly hands. And that's not all she's oblivious to. She's been living a lie so long that she can't, or won't, see the obvious sexual magnetism between her daughter and her tomboyish lover. Judy helps her escape from her rigid, now worthless dreams, and in so doing Lila gains the acceptance she has always longed for.

Of the various relationships, Judy and Lila's is the best developed and the most dramatically rewarding. But it is Cox and Dwyer who generate the steam heat.

Too bad the filmmakers have a bucket of ice water waiting in the wings. They've tried hard to treat "Better Than Chocolate" as frolic, but they can't resist taking the opportunity to address such issues as literary censorship, gay-bashing and discrimination against homosexuals. Alas, this provides a clunky counterpoint to an otherwise blithe caper. You'd think indie filmmakers would have learned by now that people tend to put on a sober face when addressed from the pulpit.

Better Than Chocolate (103 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for nudity and sexual situations.

CAPTION: Christina Cox, left, and Karyn Dwyer, sweet on each other in "Better Than Chocolate."