#314: The OWLs (2010)

It pans out like a female leading CSI programme, with trashy flashback reconstructions.

This queer thriller centres around a group of rundown OWLs (aka, Older Wiser Lesbians) living in the Californian desert. With three members of fictionalised punk band Screech! – alcoholic Iris (Guinevere Turner), the ex-lover drummer MJ (V.S. Brodie) and Londoner Lily (Lisa Gornick) – joined by Lily’s reticent black girlfriend Carol (played by film director Cheryl Dunye). They live in a queer collective, but they are far from kindred spirits. After a fatal accident with beautiful young traveller Cricket (Deak Evgenikos), tensions start to build within the group, leading to the arrival of another unexpected guest in androgynous ex-platoon Skye (Skyler Cooper).

With some truly hokey dialogue, and some trashy, CSI-like flashbacks, we learn to understand these complex characters, but we fail to empathise with their desperate attempt to cover-up the murderous past. Another inchoate factor which helps twist the incidental storyline are the inevitable relationship infidelities. Borrowed in-part from the superior 1971 drama The Killing of Sister George, Dunye gives us exposition padding with old burning flames, new sparks and sprightly put-outs. It all seems very melodramatic and silly, particularly because no aspect of The OWLs is played for laughs.

Dunye and her ensemble cast and crew, made up of regulars in The Parliament Film Collective, rely heavily on making the younger lesbian generation (both on-screen and assumedly the audience) cognisant over the hardships endured by these three ex-Riot Grrrl fems, that it ends up getting in the way of the murder mystery narrative premise. The esteemed black lesbian filmmaker shamefully skirts around the under explored tensions between interracial coupling, which was comprehensively explored in her previous TV movie Stranger Inside (again,this is a better movie than The OWLs).

Further distractions arrive with incessant talking head interviews, much like reality TV confessionals, that are spliced in-between the plot. At first, it’s an interesting technique, like a personal confessional for the characters asked about their sexuality and the deadly night in question. Quite quickly, however, they lose their edge, and end up muddling the audience’s head when an extra meta-narrative is brought in as the actresses playing the lead roles address the camera in their real-life persona. I’m not sure what this adds, other than confusion.

I didn’t hate The OWLs, just thought it to be a total waste of time. Right in the midst of an exciting LGBT cinema boom, let’s hope that the movement moves away from these birds.

IMDb / Trailer / MUBI

PS – I hope that above pun is met with light-hearted humour. It’s what the film could have done with, anyway.

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