Bloomington, directed by Fernanda Cardoso, begins with Jackie Kirk (Sarah Stouffer) packing for her first year of college. We learn that Jackie is a former child star trying to fit in with the wide-eyed collegiate types who cannot get over her celebrity-status. Almost immediately she meets Professor Catherine Stark (Allison McAtee), a young, sexy psychology professor with a reputation for bedding female undergrads. After a few stolen glances and a single conversation (15 minutes into the movie!) the two crawl between Catherine’s sheets. After the requisite scenes of sex and laughing and cooking together and reveling in all the fun they are having, they fall in love/lust. After being offered a role in the movie version of her hit TV show, Jackie eventually decides to return to her acting career, comprising their relationship.
Watching lesbian movies is like having your girlfriend cook you dinner. No matter what it tastes like you are going to love it because you know how much care and effort she put into it. However, there is the definite possibility that the quinoa and beet concoction she just whipped up is going to be pretty awful. The thing is, every once in a while it isn’t half bad, which makes you love her even more. This is how I feel about lesbian movies. I watch them constantly and pray that I don’t have to cover my eyes for another embarrassing round of boring plot lines, terrible acting and an endless loop of the one Ani Difranco song the producers could get the rights to. (On a side note, can we as a community PLEASE stop it with the Ani Difranco soundtrack for sex scenes? Seriously. It’s been in so many movies that I get turned on every time I hear “32 Flavors,” like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I'm over it.)
Let the lesbian intensity begin!
Fortunately, Bloomington is a pleasant surprise. It is well-acted by Stouffer and McAtee, who manage to avoid the usual maudlin posturing of lesbian cinema. Moreover, the characters themselves are not one-dimensional caricatures, and they evolve over the course of the story. We become more and more invested watching the characters respond to their circumstances. As their relationship finds its shape, the film explores the shifting power dynamics that arise when two people come together.
Jackie tromps around campus in jeans, tees and a sporty backpack, while Stark perpetually looks like your “hot for teacher” fantasy in pencil skirts, paired with a bun that is begging to be shaken out during a striptease in front of a chalkboard. The actresses have actual chemistry, and look like people you would see on an episode of Degrassi or some other teen melodrama, which works if you like teen melodrama as much as I do.
One of the other redeeming qualities of this movie is that Jackie looks so much younger than Catherine that it becomes quietly kinky and pretty sexy. In one scene, Jackie recites lines from the sci-fi show she starred in in her youth as foreplay, and Catherine gets turned on. Catherine has sex with Jackie in a library, sliding her up on a table, daring her to be quiet. She calls Jackie a “good girl” when cooperative in bed, and even cuts Jackie’s food. All of these things come together to make for your favorite kind of teacher/ student fantasy makes Bloomington hot and worth watching.
Bloomington has its troubles. The script can be clichéd at moments and predictable. It unravels slightly at the end. We follow Jackie’s career and then we see Catherine’s career unraveling as the film becomes slightly aimless and disjointed. Was Catherine fired because she was sleeping with girls or students in general? Is Jackie upset because she loses Catherine, or because she has to be a closeted Hollywood lesbian? The conclusion is a little muddy, but Bloomington is a thoughtful, well-made lesbian movie in the vein of Loving Annabelle. It’s one of those pretty good meals you won’t have to lie to your girlfriend about liking.
Bloomington will have its World Premiere at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco on June 23rd. It will screen in Los Angeles at Outfest on July 10th, at Philadelphia Q Fest July 17 and 18th, and at Vancouver and North Carolina Queer Film Fests in August. You can view the trailer here.
Over the next month, Vp's film stud Sophia will review selections from this year's film festival circuit.