Rating: (3 out of 5) Saturday, 10/18/2008, 7:00 PM Feature presentation, $10 at AFI Silver
AMONG THE PUZZLING aspects of Kyle Schickner’s Steam is the question of why it is appearing as part of an GLBT film festival. True, one of the film’s three story lines — which the audience weaves in and out of through a series of well-paced vignettes — involves a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality. But hers is actually the weakest and most stereotypical in its portrayals and narrative. So, why is it here?
To take a quick step back, Steam is what is known (sometimes derisively in certain corners) as a chick flick. It follows the lives of three very different women going through parallel but unconnected transitions in their lives. The men are essentially props and, when opportunity presents, most will demonstrate their invariable capacity to be angry, childish and aggressive.
Male characters aside, Steam does boast an impressive cast. The legendary Ruby Dee plays Doris, a woman trying to find some kind of peace following the death of her husband. Ally Sheedy is single mother Laurie, whose husband left her some time ago for a much younger, much blonder woman but keeps returning to make sure Laurie stays as miserable as possible. Chelsea Handler plays Laurie’s best friend.
And then there is our budding, wide-eyed lesbian Elizabeth, played by The OC‘s Kate Siegel. The only daughter of a deeply religious, controlling father and a completely vacant mother, Elizabeth is a college freshman who has fallen for a bad girl in her gender-roles class. We’re quickly told, however, that the object of Beth’s affection, Niala, is not a lesbian, but bisexual. Because what college bad girl isn’t?
The women’s lives intersect in a health club steam room and, well, that’s pretty much it.
It’s not that Steam is a bad movie. The argument could be convincingly made that it’s actually three pretty good movies. But the supposed connection between the three women feels false and superficial. There is not enough engaging dialogue between the women, no overlapping of their outside lives. One even begins to wonder how it is this health club continues to operate when it appears there are only these three women there.
The strength of Steam is found in the performances offered by Sheedy and Dee, in particular. Both reach deeply into the material to find the stuff of some genuinely lovely portrayals. Siegel gains traction by the film’s end but, by then, it’s simply far too late. Her one good line is, really, her one good line.
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