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No Heart of Gold

[whitespace] The Opposite of Sex
Bob Akester

Truitt Lies: Christina Ricci plays psycho Lolita Dedee Truitt in 'The Opposite of Sex.'

'Opposite of Sex' smolders in sorrow

By Michelle Goldberg

ALTHOUGH IT TRIES a bit too hard to be zany and madcap in its twisted plot, complicated couplings and self-referential narration, The Opposite of Sex is saved by fantastic performances and an understated sweetness. Hal Hartley favorite Martin Donovan is subtly heartbreaking as upstanding gay teacher Bill Truitt, a role that's almost a comic version of his character in Hollow Reed. Christina Ricci stars as his half-sister, Dedee, a bleached blonde who resembles Reese Witherspoon's character in Freeway--but without the decency and spunk. Dedee is ignorant and mean, and her acidic narration is initially off-putting. "If you think I'm just plucky and scrappy and all I need is love, you're in over your head," she tells us. "I don't have a heart of gold, and I don't grow one later."

The film opens with Dedee getting dolled up to attend the funeral of her hated stepfather. She doesn't like her mother much, either: "My mother was the kind of mother who always said she was her daughter's best friend. Whenever she did, I thought, Great, not only do I have a shitty mother, my best friend's a loser bitch." After running away from home, Dedee finds Bill, whose life she promptly destroys, stealing his hunky young boyfriend, Matt (Ivan Sergei), his savings and the ashes of his dead lover, Tom. One of the more annoying aspects of the film is the ease with which Dedee converts Matt to heterosexuality; at one point, she barks at Bill, "I'm gonna have a kid, I'm gonna have a normal life, and that pisses you off."

Such irritating contrivances, though, are balanced by humorous, poignant performances and rich, twisted characters. Lisa Kudrow, typecast until now as a blonde ditz, is surprisingly good as Tom's sister, Lucia, a mousy, bitter, sexually repressed schoolteacher. She's irritating and deeply sympathetic at the same time. Although she loves Bill, half of her revels in his catastrophes and the drama they add to her life. Lyle Lovett is quirky and touching as a tenderhearted sheriff, a widower who is quietly in love with Lucia. And even though Dedee is noxious, Ricci is sizzling. The corrosive, slightly menacing sexuality that simmered beneath her character in The Ice Storm explodes in The Opposite of Sex, and while her psycho Lolita is hateful, she's never dull.

The heart of the movie, though, belongs to Donovan. As in his later work with Hartley (Trust, Flirt, Amateur), there's a smoldering sorrow beneath his thoroughly responsible, respectable façade. His Bill Truitt is an oasis of civilized calm in this hysterical film, but there's also a streak of masochism in him. His refusal to retaliate against Dedee is frustrating at first--when she tells him she's been sleeping with Matt, all he can do is correct her grammar. By the end, though, his wry forgiveness of all the madness around him is oddly comforting. Donovan isn't the only thing that director Don Roos borrowed from Hartley. At its best, The Opposite of Sex is full of Hartley's deadpan compassion for human weakness and stupidity.

The Opposite of Sex (R; 105 min.), directed and written by Don Roos, photographed by Hubert Taczanowski and starring Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Ivan Sergei and Lisa Kudrow.

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of Metro.

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