The idea behind If These Walls Could Talk is that the same experience happens with different people in different time periods all in the same house. The viewer sees how the experience changes over time. In the first film, three different women have abortions, the first one when it was still illegal. In the second film, three different lesbian relationships occur all in the same house, but in different time periods. It’s like watching three short films in a row all with a common theme. If These Walls Could Talk II is one of the good lesbian films. This one is a mainstream, Hollywood film, and it’s full of celebrity actresses you will recognize. It portrays lesbians in a positive light and has a happy ending. Or at least, the second and third sections have happy endings!
The first segment, set in 1961, tells the story of an elderly lesbian couple who have been hiding the true nature of their relationship their whole lives. They are living together and love each other but other people view them as a pair of friends and maiden aunts. Now don’t panic about me giving away a spoiler, but one of them dies. The real story is not about the fact of her death but about the aftermath and how difficult it is to grieve alone when no one understands the nature of your relationship. Absolutely clueless family members come along and disrespect the surviving spouse because they have no idea the two women were in love. There is no legal protection giving her ownership of the house she helped pay for and lived in for many years of her life. The film expertly explores the endless consequences of heterosexism and the invisibility of lesbians. It is very well done and is definitely the highest quality segment of the film. However, it is heartbreaking and hard to watch.
The second segment occurs in 1972, when a group of four college-age lesbian friends are living together in the house. They are cheerful and upbeat, they are out and proud, and they are working on the feminist revolution. This segment deals with the conflict between the college-educated lesbian feminists and the butch/femme lesbians from the bar scene. I wasn’t around in the 1970s, but from reading Lillian Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers I know that this was a real conflict. (For more information, see chapter 8 of her book.) The lesbian feminists are dealing with a “lavender menace” type situation in their feminist group on campus. The straight feminists are scared of being viewed as a lesbian group, so they don’t want to work on lesbian issues. Tension and drama erupts. The next conflict is when one of the friends meets a butch woman in a lesbian bar and starts dating her. The feminist characters believe she is being repressed by wearing a tie and that she is “dressing like a man,” even though she is actually just dressing like herself. Tension and drama erupt again. These are really interesting historical situations, and this sort of conflict still does happen. There is still a disagreement among lesbians about whether butch/femme are roles based on heterosexuality or whether they are natural personality types that have nothing to do with men. In the film, it is portrayed in a rather simplified way. Naturally, since it’s a mainstream Hollywood film, it doesn’t get into the specifics of feminist theory, and it basically portrays the lesbian feminists as a bunch of jerks who don’t want women to wear ties. Despite the oversimplification, I really enjoy this segment. It’s by far my favourite of the three stories. (This might be because the story is interesting, and it might have something to do with the really hot butch/femme sex scene.) *shifty eyes*
The third section takes place in 2000, when a happy lesbian couple is trying to get pregnant using a sperm donor. The revolution has concluded and lesbians are just regular people living their lives and having families. The stars of this section are Ellen Degeneres and Sharon Stone, and it really reflects their sunny personalities. All the jokes are very Ellen, and Sharon Stone is downright silly. It makes a very happy ending to the film, especially when they dance to the song Everlasting Love. Despite how happy this section is, I find I don’t like it very much. It’s a bit too silly for my taste, and I find it annoying that Sharon Stone acts like a clown.
Most of the time when I pick up this DVD to watch it, I only watch the second segment. I have seen it so many times I can sing the lyrics to the songs that are in the soundtrack.
One of the things I like about this film is the historical footage that occurs between the segments. I suppose this is a minor detail, but I really like that the viewer is set up for each time period with videos of social issues from that period. The footage of women’s liberation marches, Gloria Steinem speaking from a podium, and early gay pride parades is really cool to see. It reminds you that these things really happened, even though the films are dramatizations.
Some of the other actresses you will recognize are Natasha Lyonne, who regularly plays lesbian characters (Orange is the New Black, But I’m a Cheerleader), and Chloe Sevigny, who was also in Boys Don’t Cry. Apparently Michelle Williams is known for Dawson’s Creek. I never watched that show but I sure like her in this film!
I think you can watch the whole thing right on Youtube. I found one poor-quality video of the entire thing, and lots of sections of the film with better quality. This is definitely worth owning on DVD though!