The second least-believable thing about If These Walls Could Talk 2, an anthology of a trio of stories set in 1961, 1972, and 2000 and each about a lesbian relationship, is that three different homosexual couples all managed to find the same house to live in at different times over nearly 40 years — what’d they go through, the Paul Lynde Realty Co.?
The least-believable thing about If These Walls Could Talk 2, however, is that Ellen DeGeneres would be able to put up with Sharon Stone long enough to have a child with her. In the year 2000 segment, written and directed by DeGeneres’ real-life girlfriend, Anne Heche, Stone is in full diva-ditz mode — she seems to be still in character after making the Albert Brooks feature-film bomb The Muse. Playing wacky free spirit Fran, Stone is trying to get pregnant with the support of her live-in love, DeGeneres’ Kal.
They go to a sperm bank (”How’s it comin’?” DeGeneres cracks to two departing donors), have some trouble getting Fran pregnant, go to a doctor played by Veronica’s Closet‘s Kathy Najimy for help, and then learn they’re successful. Except for a completely gratuitous-but-who’s-complaining make-out scene, that’s it. There’s no plot, just DeGeneres making what sound like improvised jokes, and Stone being silly, giggly, and generally ain’t-I-hot-stuff irritating, especially in the final scene, as the pair dances giddily to Natalie Cole’s ”This Will Be” to celebrate Fran’s pregnancy.
This is by far the weakest entry in If These Walls Could Talk 2, whose 1996 predecessor, which had an abortion rights theme, was the highest-rated original movie in HBO history. Continuing to work backward, Walls‘ ”1972” segment features Boys Don’t Cry‘s Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny as a butch motorcycle rider who falls in love at first sight with Dawson’s Creek‘s Michelle Williams. Williams plays a college student living with three also-gay roommates. They all get kicked out of their campus’ feminist collective because, as one snotty straight woman puts it, ”the real issues of feminism [are] equal rights between men and women.”
As directed by Martha Coolidge, whose most recent job was HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, ”1972” seeks to explore gender identity and the ironies of intolerance within minority groups. The gay roomies are ostracized by their sister feminists, who ask Williams, ”How can you like someone who dresses like a man?” (It drives these peasant-bloused hippies crazy that Sevigny’s character, Amy, wears neckties.)
The problem with this mini-film is that it forces the viewer into a position of smug superiority: ”Oh, these foolish girls,” we’re supposed to think in our magnanimously liberal way. ”Don’t they recognize that Amy is even more of a rebel than they fancy themselves to be?” Sevigny is as slyly subtle as she was in her very different role in Boys Don’t Cry — the girl’s got range — but Williams overdoes her grinning eagerness to be naughty, and the segment has a flat, abrupt ending.
I’ve saved the best for last: the first segment, ”1961,” featuring a heartbreaking performance by Vanessa Redgrave as a senior citizen mourning the loss of her longtime partner, played by Marian Seldes. The economy of emotions and storytelling here is astonishing. The first five minutes of writer-director Jane Anderson’s short film sketches in full the bond between these two women through simple scenes such as Redgrave and Seldes going on a movie date, and tidying up the neat little house they share.
Then Seldes’ character, Abby, suffers a stroke and dies, and the rest of ”1961” is about the cruel aftermath. Redgrave’s Edith is visited by Abby’s nephew (Paul Giamatti) and his wife (Elizabeth Perkins), who, following the dictate of the times — i.e., denial — fail to recognize the lesbian relationship and treat Edith as a friend who happens to live in a house that now belongs to them. Redgrave’s reactions as Perkins measures furniture and boxes up knickknacks — prized possessions that the elder woman cannot bring herself to snatch back from the younger one — are exquisitely modulated. If the walls in this house could talk during these moments, they’d tell of at least one love affair whose passion is as strong and enduring as its very foundation. Averaged grade for all three segments: B