Claire of the Moon (1992) 1 out of 4 stars
Kelli: For our inaugural blog entry, Tricia and I watched Claire of the Moon (1992), a “sensual, provocative and deeply intimate film,” according to Netflix. In the spirit of the film, we set up our entry to mimic the dialogue structure. See, about halfway through the film, Tricia noticed that rather than having natural back-and-forth conversation, the characters tended to deliver long, uninterrupted monologues. More on this later. In any event, Tricia and I each reviewed the movie and then kind of mashed our reviews together, much like the final editing sessions for this gem went down, one would surmise. Please enjoy.
Tricia: Claire of the Moon, a tedious guide to Navel-Gazing for Beginner Lesbians is something of an M. Night Shyamalan early-’90s pseudo-erotic film. The twist at the ending is so out-of-the-blue, that audiences must have left the theatres (or more likely, switched off their late-night Showtime) questioning the very world in which they lived.
Spoiler alert! In addition to a mostly female cast, the writer, director, editors and producers are all women. This comes as a shock because if you’ve watched all 107 excruciating minutes of the movie (no easy feat, I assure you), in no way will you believe that any woman had anything to do with any part of writing or directing the script.
The film chronicle plods through a famous female author’s sexual self-discovery at a meandering “writers” retreat that is held for an undetermined amount of time somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
K: Claire of the Moon opens with a haunting piano melody, with our heroine moodily smoking her favorite brand of cigarettes, Sobranies, which look uncannily like the Swisher Sweets favored by high school “bad girls.” This is actually an ingenious foreshadowing technique used by the director, as Claire tends to live her life like a high school bad girl despite her obvious descent into middle age. We are never informed of Claire’s actual age, although if one were to judge by her mom jeans and frizzy hair, it would most likely be set somewhere in her mid-twenties, after factoring in the atrocious early 1990s fashion.
After a loving close-up of Claire’s ass eating the acid-washed jeans she sports while pondering the distant sky, we watch her rebelliously speed through the mountains and wilderness in her Jag from her beach house in California to the Arcadia Writers Retreat, in backwoods USA, Portland. Upon entering the cabin where she is ostensibly to live, Claire is met with sounds of a couple getting it on in an unseen bedroom. Dr. Noel Benedict sheepishly emerges and introduces herself and her huge shoulder-padded jacket while gesturing to the back and explaining, “Research.” Claire seems unruffled so the doctor returns to her work. While unpacking Claire finds a copy of “The Naked Truth” written by Dr. Noel laying on the coffee table, apparently in the large-print version, with letters practically as large as the book itself. THE NAKED TRUTH it trumpets to the viewer. Oh, if only this movie was about “naked” or any “truth.” But we shall see this is not the case.
Cut to the cackling group of strictly women writers congregated at another cabin. The poor-man’s Delta Burke commands the frame, she with her big attitude and even bigger makeup and wardrobe mistakes. Writer/director Nicole Conn had the great sense to name her Tara O’Hara, just in case you missed the fact she is southern from her overly pronounced accent. As we will later see, beating a dead horse is one of Conn’s favorite activities. Others include: attributing ancient stereotypes to lesbians and slow-motion takes of Claire’s frizz swaying in the breeze.
Invariably, the writers at the retreat can each be identified with a stock character. That is, “writers” with the proverbial air quotes, as the women who gather for this ostensibly transformative retreat do far less writing, or talking about writing, as they do struggling to portray the one-dimensional roles to which they have been assigned. We have: the sassy Southern belle; Arrow, the deranged hippie who may or may not have been popping Quaaludes throughout filming, with her loose clothing and looser grip on reality; Maggie, the bull-dyke lesbian who runs the group while drinking beer from the bottle and never changing her wardrobe of flannel lumberjack shirts and ill-fitting pants; the by-the-book Dr. Noel, all uptight with her scheduled writing blocks, who is of course paired to live with Claire; the rock-n-roll free spirit who is at turns excessively creative (shown by her late-night writing jags where she needs to chain smoke Swisher Sweets, sometimes even two at a time – how eccentric!) and finally Erika; the uptight, mousy, housewife who is again garbed in over-the-top costuming — Mormon wear from the JC Penney’s catalogue circa 1850.
T: The women spend a great deal of time talking about being women, and the more they do, the more convinced you become that the person putting the dialogue in their mouths has never had any physical contact with a vagina, let alone has one on their body.
All of the actresses look either positively ashamed to be involved (understandable) or flat-out terrified. Early on, Noel stiffly says, “We’re only human,” and you’re certain she’s going to rip off a flesh human mask to reveal the robotic circuitry underneath. I haven’t seen this many 2-by-4s in one spot since the last time I was dragged to a Home Depot.
Most of the dialogue would more accurately be described as discordant monologues that the actors recite to one another. To further confuse matters, the editing is jarring at times, with characters cut off mid-sentence as we flash to the next scene. In other segments, the editing is seemingly non-existent, with many scenes playing out so painfully slow that I could practically feel my fingernails growing.
The action, if you want to call it that, centers around the developing love interest between Noel, the undersexed uptight lesbian sex therapist in desperate need of being broken out of her routine, and Claire, the hyper/heterosexual chain-smoking, hard-drinking philandering spitfire free-spirit rebel maverick who plays by her own set of rules.
K: Á la most 80s and early 90s movies, bad original music is played in the background while two opposing activities happen in different locales. The “writers” sit around and gossip (read: brainstorm for writing) while Claire goes out on her own to “experience the local color.” Back-and-forth editing between Claire getting hit on by a sleazy real estate broker in a podunk bar (Dialogue: “What sign are you?” Really? Didn’t “what’s your sign” fall by the wayside somewhere around the time that bell-bottoms went out of style?) and Tara O’Hara reading from the sleazy soft-core porn (think Harlequin romance) that she has published. It is worth noting that most changes in this scene are aided by a soft fade similar to the “dissolve” setting on PowerPoint presentations.
Concerning the women and their group dialogue, this might be considered stimulating conversation if you were in, oh I’d say, 7th grade. This group of mixed-sexual-orientation middle-aged women throw around some really shopworn ideas despite their varied backgrounds. “Men and women speak two separate languages” or “Men are shit.” Really, any number of “lesbians are man haters” propaganda. There is a sprinkling of penis-length talk to reassure the viewers that some of the women are true red-blooded heteros. Following our introduction to these paper-doll characters, we return to the primary plot line, Who I Did Last Summer. . .
T: These two polar opposites—we know they’re polar opposites because Noel helpfully spells that out for us by saying; “We’re polar opposites”—are forced to get to know one another while rooming together in the same cabin. And ooooohhh boy, do these ladies get to “know” one another, if you catch my drift. What I’m trying to say is that they have sex. With each other.
But that sex doesn’t happen for a very long time and not until you have suffered through a lot of really, really boring exposition. I imagine it’s kind of like trying to watch one of those Twilight movies. Please just do it already, so that I can move on and watch a Seinfeld rerun.
As Claire slowllllllly realizes her bi-curious, or quasi-lesbian, tendencies, the script continues to dabble—in very confusing bits of chatter and action—in nearly every tried-and-true lesbian stereotype imaginable.
The evidence suggests that this was intended to be a sensitive, possibly even provocative, think-piece for the times. Sadly, the evidence also suggests that the script was written in round-robin style. Several writers scribbled out their ideas for conversation and scene and sort of mashed everything together into a herky-jerky amalgam of pure crap.
K: Fast-forward to the end of the film. The man bashing is put aside so that the women can dance around the cabin in a drunken haze, after downing tequila shots. This is done in reaction to the news that Erika’s husband has left her after being forced into slave labor, ie acting as sole parent to their children for 2 weeks. Without any other male in the cast of characters besides the douche that Claire had been boning, it was necessary for some remote evil man to uphold the one-sided rhetoric posited by the film thus far.
It is here that the prowess of the cameraman is put to the test, and he fails miserably. It looks like as though he is also wheeling drunkenly around the party, what with all of the shots with peoples’ heads cut off and sloppy cuts between torsos, feet and flailing limbs. It made me nostalgic for the videos my friends and I used to make in college during house parties. Something best left to be watched the next morning when everybody is still punch-drunk and then promptly erased.
T: By the time the writers gather for this demented dance party, one wishes that this had instead been an Agatha Christie novel, wherein each loathsome character is picked off, one by one, in a gruesome manner. Sadly, there is no knife-wielding mad man lurking in the bushes – not even a simple gas leak or alcohol poisoning to liven things up a bit. Noel and Claire finally consummate the love that dare not speak its name before walking off into the sunrise and the audience is spared from having to drive a pencil into their collective eyeball.
K: What have we learned from this movie? Mostly: Portland is for lovers. Runner-up: even though classical music is in the public domain and thus a cheap fill-in for low-rent films, you really can’t force it.
My sad personal conclusion about this film is that Nicole Conn thought she was making a poignant coming-of-middle-age film. Having a “garden variety slut” (Dr. Noel’s words) like Claire have a go at Dr. Noel after the challenge of breaking down her will is not so far-fetched and definitely not heartrending. Attractive, bored, overly-sexed people do this all the time. In the time span depicted by the movie, Claire has sex with three different people in as many weeks. Fantasizing about another woman while screwing a male townie does not an inspiration make.
Rather, if there were less overused devices like lesbians wearing leather jackets and making out on the beach and more everyday obstacles like holding someone’s hand at the grocery store, then maybe Conn could have made a more engaging film. Maybe. Maybe if Claire would have had to weather the reactions that are directed towards openly gay people out in the daylight, far from the safety of a closed writers community, then she could have learned more about herself and the world.
If this movie was shooting for the moon, then it missed. And it missed the stars too.
Rental Rehab review by Kelli and Tricia