"The Opposite of Sex" is one of those scrappy little human serio-comedies for which the word "quirky" seemed to be invented.
And Dedee Truitt would just hate that. Dedee, a hard-looking, tough-talking, 16-year-old runaway from Louisiana, can't stand words like "scrappy" and "quirky." They make her want to puke. She makes her world-view quite clear early in her narration of "The Opposite of Sex." She has "no heart of gold, and I'm not going to grow one, either."
So there. One of the supreme accomplishments of "The Opposite of Sex" is that it bears such warmth and humor in spite of its toxic center. Admittedly, this has much to do with the gifted actress Christina Ricci, who sticks to Dedee's wishes and plays her without a trace of sentimentality, even while making her vulnerability crystal clear.
When Dedee runs away from Louisiana, after hurling a pot of flowers into her late stepfather's grave, she runs to -- where else? -- Indiana. That's where her half-brother Bill (Martin Donovan) lives, and that's the quiet, staid world Dedee proceeds to destroy brick by perfectly pointed brick.
It's not enough that Dedee should simply show up on the doorstep of Bill, who is leading a happily bourgeois existence as an English teacher and has recently taken up with Matt (Ivan Sergei) after the death of a former lover. She must also try to seduce Matt and alienate Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), Bill's late boyfriend's sister, who buries her fear of sex and commitment in an overweening care for the infinitely care-able Bill. A series of circumstances leads to the entire group going on the road to California, with the town cop in hot pursuit.
That the town cop is played by Lyle Lovett indicates that "The Opposite of Sex," which was written and directed by first-time filmmaker Don Roos, bucks convention whenever it can. Indeed, Dedee is the only stereotype -- slatternly, trashy teen with a pack of Camels for a heart -- within a story populated by wonderfully well-etched characters (what Dedee would call "losers").
Donovan, familiar to fans of Hal Hartley films, lends his enormous appeal to a simple man who just happens to be the obsession of everyone who comes into contact with him, and Johnny Galecki gives a very funny turn as Matt's callow ex-boyfriend, who vies with Dedee for the Most Infuriating and Selfish Young Person title.
Everyone within this madcap extended family -- and by the end, everyone does seem related -- manages to make a singular impact, but it's Kudrow who steals the show as the uptight yet heartbreaking Lucia. She conveys a lifetime -- of snobbery, insecurity, fear -- with just the hint of an upturned nose.
Lucia is the film's comic relief ("She's a human tabloid!"), but also its soul. When she explains to Bill why she'd rather have a good shampoo than sex, it's an amusing moment, but Kudrow also imbues it with poignant honesty and sadness. Without Kudrow, "The Opposite of Sex" might have been a pleasant enough diversion from the noise and fury of a Big Studio summer; with her, it's a triumph.
'The Opposite of Sex'
Starring Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Galecki
Directed by Don Roos
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R (strong language and sex-related dialogue and sexuality)
Running time: 100 minutes
Sun Score: ***
Pub Date: 7/03/98