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Go to Sleep ... It's Just Talk

[whitespace] Relax ... It's Just Sex
Phil Tarley

Tara Firma: Tara (Jennifer Tilly) tries to keep her boyfriend from going abroad in 'Relax ... It's Just Sex.'

P.J. Castellaneta's characters don't know when to shut up

By Richard von Busack

THE MAKERS of Relax ... It's Just Sex ought to be sued for false advertising. The real title should be Try to Stay Awake ... It's Just Talk. Director/writer P.J. Castellaneta's film features a dozen characters of various sexual persuasions, a demographic stew of the West L.A. gay/bi community: one hetero couple; one lipstick lesbian with male fling (Serena Scott Thomas); one boyish lesbian (Lori "Tank Girl" Petty); one lipstick lesbian (Cynda Williams) torn between the last-named two women; one HIV-positive male, Javi (Eddie Garcia); and one HIV-negative survivor (T.C. Carson) of a lover who died of AIDS.

Each of the characters has one little chip on his or her shoulder. Mitchell Anderson, who plays the would-be playwright Vincey Sauris, can't find a good solid live-in boyfriend. Vincey, who has issues about having been queer bashed when he was in college, retaliates against a second basher by raping the perpetrator in front of his shocked friends. It's an understandable revenge fantasy, but what does it have to do with a schmooze fest like this? The answer must be that Castellaneta wanted some action to keep the movie from looking as static as it unfortunately is.

While Vincey retreats from his extended family of pals, Tara (Jennifer Tilly) tries to keep going as the nucleus of the group. Her boyfriend, Gus (Timothy Paul Perez), is ready to go abroad as a war correspondent; Tara tries to talk him out of it, with dialogue that's like memories of a hundred bad old movies: "You'd rather wander the war capitals of the world than stay with me. I'll tell you one thing you're not going to find out there in Cairo, and that's me."

The physical differences among the cast aren't enough to make it seem like they are really different people. They all talk the same--they're a mass happy family, the Friends crew doubled. Castellaneta is apparently uninterested in visual storytelling. This sort of film is illustrated radio. The talk is more important than the images, and there are no nuances. Boutique filmmaking like this may find a queer audience happy to see any dim reflection of themselves on screen. And there are flashes of humor in the dimness; the flashes never last, but they're there. Scott Thomas as the straying half of a lesbian couple may be little more than a British-accented villainess. Still, her argument as she breaks up with her girlfriend has some bite to it. Pointing to the bed they shared, she snaps, "It's a lesbian bed death--this is a lesbian death bed!" Ultimately, however, Relax ... It's Just Sex has a moralizing streak. The film reclaims families, monogamy, prayer and childbirth for homosexuals as well as for straights. Aren't families, monogamy, prayer and childbirth what we go to the movies to get away from?

Relax ... It's Just Sex (Unrated, 108 min.), directed and written by P.J. Castellaneta and starring Jennifer Tilly, Lori Petty and Eddie Garcia.

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From the March 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro.

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