Tonight the 26th LLGFF opens with the road comedy Cloudburst. Starring venerable Oscar-winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as lezzies on the lam, the film breaks new ground in presenting a long-term lesbian couple as heroines of their own adventure, while presenting their relationship as a given. After 31 years together, Stella and Dot find themselves separated when Dot's grand-daughter has her committed to a home. Stella breaks her out and the two go on the run.
Dukakis is a revelation as Stella, an unreconstructed butch, trading earthy jokes with her partner, while giving anyone who crosses her path an earful of her foul-mouthed opinions. The opening shot establishes the feel of the film brilliantly, with Dukakis, resplendent in flannel shirt and cowgirl hat, at the wheel of a pick-up, humming along to k.d. lang (several of whose early songs feature on the soundtrack). Marvellous.
Fricker has the tricky task of offering understated support as Dot, the blind, fragile partner to Dukakis' exuberant lead, but she also has some great moments, although the comic setpiece that finds her headbutting a naked man in bed is misjudged. The film does occasionally stray into crude slapstick, but there are so many great moments that the mis-steps don't spoil the fun.
One might question the necessity of introducing Ryan Doucette's metrosexual dancer Prentice to join the women on the run, but perhaps writer-director Thom Fitzgerald thought this would provide eye candy for the boys, the number of times Doucette takes off his shirt.
I was looking forward to meeting Ms. Dukakis for an interview today, but she has cancelled her appearance at the festival. A shame that, as I was hoping to get some butch tips from her.
Other highlights to look forward to: docs on Alice Walker, Patty Schemel, Vito Russo and Jobriath; hotly-tipped dramas Circumstance, Gun Hill Road and Stud Life; and chances to see Weekend, Pariah and Potiche.
The 26th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival runs from 23 March to 1 April at BFI Southbank.