This summer I saw C Jay Cox’s latest film Kiss the Bride with two of the boys; we ended the movie conflicted. On the one hand, despite its derivative reference or “homage” to another wedding crasher movie, it was sweet, romantic, and it reunited Steve Sandavoss with “that girl from Buffy,” to quote one of the boys. On the other, it is a movie where the “gay guy” marries the love of his life: a girl named Alex (Tori Spelling). We left the movie dazed and confused because we wanted to love this movie but felt that its regressive turn was something we simply could not support. Despite a last minute phone call from would be suitor Matt (Philipp Karner) to his boyfriend back in California about making it work and lines like:
“marriage, civil union, whatever we do, does it matter what we call it . . . ‘cos I want a commitment from me to you forever.”
Kiss the Bride ultimately reinforced the idea of homosexulity as experimentation and heterosexual marriage as dysfunctional but right.
Imagine my surprise then when my co-prof (CP) suggested Kiss the Bride for the class. I asked him why he chose it given that it is somewhat of a stretch for a “coming out” film since the coming(s) out are all sort of minor or kind of known and in fact, besides Matt and his largely off screen California relationships, everyone is decidedly heterosexual by the end of the movie. CP said, we needed at least one film that challenged the idea of sexuality itself. He wanted a film that opened the possibility for discussing sexual identity as fluid both to appeal to the generation we teach, who are just as likely to describe their same sex relationships as “the person I love, who could be a man or a woman” than as a sign of their sexual identity, and to lead into our discussion/readings on bi-sexuality. He also wanted something that would be accessible to some of the more conservative students we might have attracted to the class since it centers a heterosexual wedding.
There is a line in Kiss the Bride about bisexuality as the last ditch effort on the way to coming out that I do think is a fruitful one to focus on. Like the way Alice self-describes in the first season of the L Word, “Dirty Bisexual,” it speaks to a sense among both gay and straight people that sexual attraction is fixed, ie straight or gay. It exposes the idea that for all of the talk of fluidity actually moving between types of embodied desires can be detrimental. When Ani DiFranco married a man there was a definite backlash amongst the female students who had worshipped her where I teach as there was for Melissa Ethridge’s first partner when she gave up their enshrined relationship to return to dating men. On this level, C Jay Cox’s film is far more kind than Kissing Jessica Stein in that it actually gives us sexually healthy characters who make informed and complex choices about their lives and their desires as agents in their destiny rather than passive recipients of them. And for those who actually end up in heterosexual relationships but define themselves as queer, a controversial position, Kiss the Bride is also more forward thinking than Alice’s unmarked drift into lesbian identity that neither questions the idea of bisexuality nor continues a once ongoing narrative of sexual experimentation and exploration, on the L Word. Ultimately, since this is not a film about bisexuality but rather various concepts of love and desire, it allows us to speak about both bi and sexuality in general in potentially interesting ways.
The film also takes some time out to address the politics of the closet so that hopefully people do not walk out of the movie thinking it is reinforcing “the down low.” And yet, as I said, it might take a sophisticated viewer to actually take those moments seriously. There is a particularly unbelievable scene where Alex tells Matt and Ryan (James O’Shea) they have to have sex 4 hours before her wedding to Ryan. The scenes from Here TV’s the Down Low are far more credible. And yet, Spelling plays the part superbly and the scenes are written with such honesty, that if you are going to believe them this would be the time.
So why my anxiety?
The film was supposed to happen early in the semester but was pushed back, along with the readings, when we were unable to get a copy in time. It was supposed to open a discussion of what sexual identity is in a “non-threatening” film that centers a heterosexual wedding is, at heart, a comedy. Where we teach, its best to walk softly even in a course with “queer” in the title.
Now we are teaching a film about marriage at a time when the nation is still reeling from the prop 8 decision. Knowing my own reaction to seeing Ryan choose Alex over Matt, I can’t help but wonder what some of the more outspoken students in our class are going to say about it on the backs of the prop 8 rallies . . . A scene that I think would normally have taken 10-15 minutes of our discussion time about marriage, where Ryan’s father defends restricting marriage while slipping an exotic dancer potential child support money, that will no doubt become a centerpiece of our discussion. While that is understandable we are charged with two things in this class:
- teach them queer theory and key concepts in queer cinema
- provide the methods, theories, and space to discuss queer studies as a legitimate academic pursuit
One of the two disciplines in which I teach, supposedly has no problem with queer studies, all though neither of them really want it in the curriculum. CP, on the other hand, teaches in a Department that would gladly get rid of the entire offerings as “political,” “divisive,” and “unnecessary.” They have been monitoring the progress of this course keenly and CP suspects that some of the email skirmishes (like the naked incident I wrote about earlier, or the back and forth about us “diverting class time for political purposes” when we had the impromptu Obama ovation before class or the prop 8 rally discussions after class, etc.) are fostered by the overly conservative elements in his Department to push the curriculum out of bounds.
In this climate, it is hard to think about teaching this film in a way that ensures focus on detached academic discourse but also engaged real world application. Does that make sense? I mean we do it all the time, but there is just a lot at stake now that would not have been here under a different Chair and a different political outcome.
CP is primary on this film, so if I was a cowardly co-prof I would leave him to do the heavy lifting. As it is, the way we split up teaching duties, I’ve just got to have my talking points down. They include an analysis of the various dysfunctional relationships surrounding the “happy couple,” the disconnect between those who feel weighed down by obligations and small town connectivity and those who feel comforted or even freed by it, questions about gender (depictions of male and female attitudes, relationships, certain lesbian window dressing moments, etc.), and so on. I’m particularly interested in discussing a moment in the film when Alex explains the difference between average and extraordinary b/c for many of my students, I think they feel these tensions and also that they are on the wrong end of the comparison b/c of where they live, where they are from, and what they want. I think it will give them a chance to talk about how they are perceived outside of the area Pov U sits and how they see themselves. It is an opportunity for them to discuss themselves as academic beings (the story is about a student) and explore sexual identities that are not necessarily urban or tied to a cityscape or queer mecca, not on a coast, not the images you often see depicted in film. For them, Red Dirt rings far truer than Circuit or even Eating Out 2.
CP is handling the hard one: Love. How does one love? Is love solid or does it melt into the people and things around you in ways that make it possible to love more diversely? What are the parallels between the love Matt and Ryan share and Alex and Matt share? What happens when homophobia makes you feel stuck b/c you cannot ever be sure if you lost the person you love b/c of “the fear of the queer”?
In a way, I cannot think of a better film maker for the concepts at hand than C Jay Cox. What I truly love about his films are their inevitable likability. He creates characters that are instantly heart warming and easy to invest in. That is never more evident than in Kiss the Bride, where you find yourself rooting for Matt in the exact same scene that you are crushed for Alex. And he also always has at least one person of color, who is often the best friend, in all of his films. In Latter Days it was a black roommate/best friend and in Kiss the Bride it is an Asian-American co-worker whose wise cracking brings needed levity without degenerating into Lloyd on Entourage or Adam on Half and Half. His eye for casting in general is always solid; Tori Spelling as the queer sympathetic and yet madly in love bride is perfect. And yes, Cox tends toward cheesy goodness rather than cheese free but to me that is part of his charm; his films are deceptively simple when in fact what they offer is complex and lasting questions about the human heart. He also writes some of the apropo songs on the sound tracks for his films that I cannot ever get out of my head.
In what is so clearly counter programming, Kiss the Bride is playing on Here TV online right now. You can watch it and all of their other offerings for $10. If you do, come by and tell me what you thought of it. Until then I’ll just be humming the song above.
(And yes, for the 50 millionth time, you should also check out Latter Days)