For a movie as plot heavy as The Opposite Of Sex, I spent remarkably little time thinking about that plot. Though it has twists & turns galore it's always easy enough to follow, and in any case it's not really the point of the story. Instead, the film exists as a showcase for its characters. Their personalities and behavior – and what they end up saying about the nature of human relationships – are what make the film so entertaining and worthwhile to watch. (Well, that and the considerable humor of this well-crafted comedy.)
The prime mover of it all – as well as the narrator – is Deedee (Christina Ricci), a brash, politically incorrect, exasperatingly cynical sixteen year old girl who manipulates, uses, and takes advantage of people with a casual aplomb that many who are twice her age would envy. The simple explanation would be that she's just a little bitch with a rather – pardon the expression – trailer parkish outlook on life. But there are indications, in Ricci's acting, in the narration, and in the plot itself, that maybe there are some understandable reasons for why she turned out this way. As well as some indications that perhaps she could become more. (Though as narrator, Deedee does tell us that she's not going to grow a heart of gold by the end of the movie, so we shouldn't hold our collective breath waiting.)
Upon the death of her hated stepfather, Deedee leaves her mother and goes to visit Bill (Martin Donovan), her openly gay, thirty-something half-brother, whom she hasn't seen in forever. Bill is a high school teacher whose twenty-something live-in boyfriend Matt (Ivan Sergei) is hot and fairly nice, but none-too-bright. Watching over Bill & Matt is Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), a colleague of Bill's and the sister of his dead lover Tom. (Tom died some time ago of complications due to AIDS. Bill eventually managed to move on and met Matt. Lucia has hovered over Bill like a mother hen, ever since.)
This all just sets the stage. The meat of the plot is as follows. (Skip the next paragraph, if you want it all to be a surprise.)
Deedee seduces Matt (who, it turns out, is bisexual), tells him she's pregnant with his baby – though he thought they'd used protection...? – and convinces him to leave with her, after getting him to steal some money from Bill “for the baby”. Unknown to Matt, she also takes Tom's ashes, as leverage to get more money from Bill later on. To complicate matters, we find that Deedee really is pregnant, though whether the father is (a) her previous boyfriend (who shows up again) or (b) her stepfather (as she claimed at one point, and which would explain why she hated him so much) is open to debate. Then there's Jason, the kid who is (kinda sorta) Matt's “other boyfriend”, who falsely accuses Bill publicly of having molested him when he was a student at Bill's school a few years ago, and who subsequently gets involved with Matt and Deedee . (This is when Bill becomes acquainted with the paparazzi.) This brings in the involvement of Carl (Lyle Lovett), the local sheriff who is Bill's friend and who holds a torch for Lucia. He follows Bill & Lucia on the cross-country trips they take to try to clear Bill's name and get Tom's ashes back. And that ties in with a shooting, which leads to...
Well, as I said: Plot heavy.
But that's okay, because it's not just plot for plot's sake. It all serves as a backdrop and excuse for the interaction of the characters, which is both hilarious and fascinating. For example, we quickly learn that Bill, if not absolutely the nicest and calmest guy in the world, must be at least in the top 99th percentile. He possesses the sort of nearly unflappable calm that comes from having lived through hell – the love of his life's death – and knowing, of any trials that may come afterward, that “this too shall pass”. And he has a sense of humor, which we first see when he deals with a high school kid writing some stuff about him on the bathroom wall. But Donovan's portrayal of him never comes across as bland, as it easily could with a lesser actor; he's certainly able to play Bill mad or fed up. For example, when Bill gives Matt a well-deserved “F*ck you” after Matt spouts some nonsense about how he's going to have a “normal life” with Deedee and the baby, we start learning that Bill's composure is not absolute. Nor is Bill the most self-knowledgeable of individuals; he has a fair amount of denial regarding his relationship with Matt (mentioned below). Still, Bill is a fundamentally decent, smart, funny guy of the sort I'd like to know in real life. And it is largely Donovan's portrayal that makes him so likable.
Perhaps slightly less likable but even more enjoyable as a character – in fact, my favorite character – is Lisa Kudrow's Lucia. (She decided at a young age that it was pronounced “Lu'-sha”, similar to her older sisters Marcia and Tricia, not “Lu-Chee'-a”, as her parents had intended.) When the story starts, Lucia is a perpetually-worried, spinsterly figure who is as cynical in her own way as Deedee. (Though not at all as manipulative.) She loves Bill like the brother-in-law he is, and is quick to point out how poorly most others act, and how suspect their motivations are, in comparison. She has been so disappointed by people (and so lonely) for so long that her sadness is almost palpable. (I say sadness rather than bitterness, for she is not generally nasty. Though she definitely is not above irony and biting sarcasm when she thinks they are deserved, as with the great line, “This is how we do things on the planet Maturia. We have much to teach you.”) It was impressive to see Kudrow portray a personality so different from her “Friends” role of Phoebe, and fun to see her do so well with it. (By the time the story concludes, Lucia's perspective on people and relationships has changed perhaps more than any other character's. And I found that to be one of the most emotionally satisfying aspects of a film chock-full of emotionally satisfying resolutions.)
And then there's Deedee, a person who, if judged by her actions alone, would be almost completely unlikable. Fortunately, we have Ricci's portrayal to watch, which drops hints – in a look here and a tone of voice there – that maybe we shouldn't dislike her as much as we're tempted to. And we have her self-revealing narration throughout, which combines cleverness and cluelessness in a way that left me grinning even when it was (at least “officially”) offensive. I guess if she were much older than sixteen, the crap she pulls throughout the film would be unforgivable, even by someone as ready to forgive as Bill. But as it is...well, judge for yourself.
More than with anything anyone does in the film, it is with what they say to each other (and, through Deedee's narration, to the audience) that writer/director Don Roos gives us his ruminations on the nature of relationships:
- We hear Lucia's proclamation that she just doesn't understand sex and why we spend so much time chasing it. A nice, relaxing shampoo, or a really good back rub, she could understand. But sex is just “a lot of trouble for not much”. “And what's so great about fluids?”, she asks. “It's like, 'Hi, I'd like to blow my nose on your face.' You wouldn't like that, would you?”
- We hear Carl's theory that the primary purpose of sex may be neither procreation nor recreation, but concentration, to focus us on that one person we're with. Because, “otherwise, there are just too many people in the world.”
- We hear Matt's (surprisingly insightful) take on being Bill's boyfriend: Bill wanted what they had to be not merely sexual, but something “mental or spiritual or whatever”, as it was with Tom. But Matt's aware that his mind is not his best feature, so if Bill wants him for his mind then not only does Bill have a fool for a boyfriend, “so do I”.
- And we hear Deedee's perspective – on which the film's title is based – that sex is inherently messy and leads to more messiness, i.e., relationships, which is why she wants “the opposite of sex”: Independence and self-determination (ignoring the loneliness that can accompany such an emotionally unencumbered life.)
...And I haven't even included some of my favorite exchanges here. Clever, unpredictable, and at all times human, the writing made me want to care about these people from the beginning. But it was the excellent acting – well, Lovett's, I guess, is... acceptable – that actually enabled me to do so. All despite a somewhat over-the-top sequence of plot twists, complete with a few coincidences (and a narrator) to tie them together and clean up the messy parts.
Good editing and production values (cinematography, sound, etc.) help round out the package, doing what they always do when they work well: Keep from distracting us from the important things. And make no mistake, it's the important things that this movie is about. Not just sex, but everything that goes with it: Kids, and family, and warmth, and fun, and worry, and disease, and sacrifice, and... relationships. You know, all the really messy stuff.
The film is rated R, presumably for language, mature themes, and some mild depictions of sex. DVD extras include deleted scenes and director's commentary.