The Opposite of Sex

Newcity Chicago

DIRECTED BY: Don Roos

REVIEWED: 06-22-98

Don Roos' cheerfully savage, verbally kinetic comedy, "The Opposite of Sex," is equal opportunity acrimony, taking shots at every kind of hypocrisy known to man.

Or at least known to 16-year-old DeDee Truitt, a white-trash runaway played by the always mesmerizing Christina Ricci as part Lolita, part prosecuting attorney. Sarcasm and vitriol are not wasted in Ricci's delivery of lines like, "You're a homo, fine, whatever, like I give a shit." Roos doesn't abide by the usual rules of comedy, and that alone would make "Sex" a standout amid safe studio romantic yupfests. DeDee hightails it to the Indiana home of Bill, her gay half-brother (Martin Donovan), and before long she's seduced her brother's boyfriend, gotten pregnant and set off on a torturous crime spree. Lisa Kudrow also shines as Lucia, the perennially angry sister of Bill's late lover. Lucia and DeDee are fueled by their anger, and Roos, who is gay, gets incredible mileage, literal and otherwise, out of the trouble it gets them into, as well as the politically incorrect fireworks of his dialogue. Chastised for drinking while pregnant, DeDee bellows, "Oh come on, this baby owes its life to Long Island Ice Tea, you know what I mean, Mister We-Don't-Need-A-Rubber-I'll-Pull-Out-In-Time."

Ricci, no longer the spooky young Wednesday of "The Addams Family," has now grown pleasingly Rubenesque. "It's a different look than we're used to in American movies, certainly, a woman who's... womanly," Roos says over coffee at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "Christina's thinner now than when she made the movie, but she made no apologies for being of different proportions than most of the scrawny heroin chic actresses around. I liked it very much."

Her blasts of teenage naiveté-cum-stupidity make her an angry, recriminatory little brat, and it's surprising that a major producer (even a now-defunct one like Rysher Entertainment) made something so verbally extravagant and potentially offensive. "Well, Christina was one of the main things that got this movie made," Roos concedes. "When she - [a person] who has some success in traditional Hollywood pictures - said she would do it, it became a real thing. I know [Sundance] is an independent film festival, but in preproduction it felt very much like a studio movie. Money came in very, very slowly and it all had to be castable with stars even on a low budget, somewhere in the fours [million]. It couldn't just be a good actor, it had to be a good actor with some kind of name."

"The Opposite of Sex" doesn't seem like the work of the same writer who scripted "Love Field" and "Boys on the Side" and "Single White Female." "['Single White Female'] was a lot funnier as a script," he says. "But it all had to come out. [When it was done], there wasn't enough character for my taste. This is much more typical. Maybe some people do it differently, maybe they start out much like themselves in what they want to do and the system takes over. I started working within the system by trying to do the things that they did well, or at least to get paid or hired and just break in."

The experience of learning how to write scripts, and then seeing changes he disagreed with, eventually freed up Roos' work. "In the beginning, it was just trying to get in. You get disillusioned by what is permitted by the process. You learn what the process is, and you go, 'Oh, I'm not going to be able to do what I thought in the studio system. I'm never going to be able to talk about those things.'" Roos realized his voice lay elsewhere. "It's not essentially the studio making the decisions, it's that big mass audience out there. You're trying to talk to the middle of America. You need to talk to the people in the malls. And I don't have anything to say to people in the malls. Nothing, really. 'Move over, I need to get underwear,' that's what I say to the people in malls."

Turning to directing was for Roos, as with many writers, a way of protecting his words. "I have become more idiosyncratic and peripheral since I've been in the business. You get more frustrated by what you're not allowed to do. You're not allowed to have an unlikeable character, you're not allowed to have someone who's politically incorrect, you can never have a pregnant woman smoking ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Ever! It is the biggest sin! You can have a pregnant woman disemboweling a child but you cannot have her smoke. Stupid rules. I don't know what it is. Believing an audience needs to be pampered and comforted and chivvied along and really basically flattered. They only pay $7.50! Why should I be giving someone the equivalent of a blowjob for $7.50?" I can only shrug back at such a common-sense rhetorical question.

--Ray Pride

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