Movie Review: Notes on a Scandal

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Michael and I saw Notes on a Scandal this weekend, about how an older battle ax of a teacher (Judi Dench) falls secretly in love with a younger bohemian-type (Cate Blanchett), and uses the discovery of the younger woman’s scandalous affair with a 15 year-old boy to manipulate the woman. Basically, the older woman is an emotional vampire, sucking the life out of the women she covets, before finally destroying them utterly. This is the real “scandal” of the title.

I agree that this is well-written and impressively acted movie (especially by Cate Blanchett, who I thought just as good as the wildly-praised La Dench, but in the less showy, more difficult role: someone who is almost entirely without substance, living entirely in each moment).

But I gotta say, I pretty much totally agree with Malinda Lo over at AfterEllen: another movie about the tired stereotype of the predatory lesbian?! Some might argue that we’ve moved to a point in society that audiences won’t see the evil, psychotic spinster Barbara Covett (real subtle, huh?) as a “lesbian”: that she’s just a…person with, uh, some real intimacy issues. And given that this is totally an “art-house” movie, most folks who see this film are admittedly going to be pretty gay-tolerant.

But this movie doesn’t exist in a void. It comes after decades of portrayals of lesbians who act exactly this way, from Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca all the way to Basic Instinct and beyond.

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Hey, I’m not saying that the writers and filmmakers don’t have the right to tell this story about these characters. They do. And they told it well. Congrats to them! And, yeah, it’s not their fault that so many other movies have portrayed lesbian characters so…similarly, and so few other writers have written more positive representations of lesbianism.

But I also have the right to say that it’s just plain weird that in a year that will have maybe three movies about lesbians, two of them (Black Dahlia and Notes on a Scandal) will feature the most tired and defamatory of lesbian stereotypes, that of the predatory lesbian. That’s almost as common as using lesbianism, or at least women kissing, to illustrate complete decadence and total amorality in a storyline. I’ve seen that movie before. Which is doubly frustrating because it doesn’t resonate with me in terms of being representative of how actual lesbians relate to other women. I’ve never met these hoary lesbian stereotypes in real life. I think they more accurately represent heterosexual fears of gay people.

Anyway, I totally get why some lesbians are annoyed by this movie. As good as it was, it annoyed me too.