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Salt Lake City Weekly Forget 'Lolita'

By Mary Dickson

AUGUST 24, 1998:  Forget Lolita: Christina Ricci, who was just a child a few hours ago, has blossomed big-time into one full-bodied dangerous little nymphet.

In Don Roos' hilariously sardonic look at sex, love, friendship and family, Ricci sizzles, crackles and bristles. Her performance, like this refreshingly un-PC film, is a true original. With The Opposite of Sex, Ricci moves to a new level. And watch out. This girl's a woman now. She can pout, she can pose, she can lure, coddle and seduce, and she can really act.

She plays Dedee Truitt, a 16-year-old vamp from hell (well, actually the wrong side of the tracks in Crabtree, Louisiana) who leaves her mother and moves in with her half-brother Bill (Martin Donavan), a mild-mannered gay school teacher whose lover died of AIDS. Bill now lives with the hunky though dim-witted Matt (Ivan Sergei), and hangs out with Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), his dead lover's frustrated sister.

Dedee's unannounced arrival is about to turn their lives inside out. Naughty Dedee seduces Matt, claims to be pregnant by him, drags him with her to start a new life, and basically ruins the lives of everyone she meets. She's one bad girl and oh so easy to hate. But her arrival is the catalyst that makes everyone take a hard look at their lives and choices.

Roos, an established screenwriter (Single White Female, Love Field and Boys On the Side) makes his directorial debut with The Opposite of Sex. And his directing is as sharp as his writing. Moving the storyline along and keeping the characters and their relationships straight is saucy Dedee's narration, which is the funniest part of the film. "If you think I'm plucky and scrappy and all I need is love, you're in way over your head," she warns the audience. "I don't have a heart of gold or get nice. There are a lot nicer people coming up. We call them losers."

Dedee doesn't like many people and they don't like her. On her mother: "My mother said she was my best friend. Not only do I have a shitty mother, but my best friend is a loser bitch." On gays: "Gays do look better than straight people and they smell better and they're clean except for viruses. And they don't have hair in their ears or nose." On Lucia: "She's beyond sex. Like an amoeba."

Her half-brother, Bill, is such a nice guy (substitute "sucker") that when he sees grafitti in the school bathroom saying he sucks, he sees it as an opportunity to teach the miscreant a grammar lesson. He never gets mad. Not even when Dedee steals his money and his lover. "People getting dumped are always lovable, even homos," Dedee tells the audience as the music swells. "It's just the music. Does that music make your heart break?"

Roos doesn't just satirize the sexual confusion of the '90s, but uses the narration to lampoon all the standard movie cliches. When Dedee screams out in childbirth, her narration interjects, "Haven't we seen this scene a million times? I'll give you something else to watch. You feel free to go back and forth." Roos knows how to skewer predictability and has a ball playing with it.

Angry at life and feeling that she's lost everything, Lucia is the consummate frustrated old maid with one of those unfortunate whiney voices that makes her sound perpetually on the verge of tears. Poor Lucia. Trying to keep everyone on track. Still mourning her brother and nursing an unhealthy attraction to Bill. "I had a life once," she whines, "but I stopped feeding it and it walked away."

Just when you're about to feel sorry for Lucia, Dedee's narration blasts you back to reality: "In the movies, you feel sorry for them," snips Dedee. "In real life you wouldn't sit by her."

Then there's Mr. Nice Guy. Poor Bill. Just when things seem to be their worst, a former student shows up looking for Matt. Turns out the student and Matt were lovers, and he's not falling for the story about Matt running off with a girl, so he calls the police, reports Matt missing, and to top it all off spitefully accuses Bill of molesting him when he was a student. Scandal time.

Neurotic, off-beat, and surprisingly likable, Roos' characters are all trying to figure out what this thing called love and that urge called sex are all about.

Lucia claims not to be interested in sex, saying she prefers back rubs, which last longer and don't involve fluids. "Sex kills," she notes. For the sheriff (Lyle Lovett), who's been patiently pursuing Lucia, the point of sex isn't recreation or procreation, but concentration. "It's like a biological highlighter. It's supposed to make you concentrate on me."

Dedee, as expected, gets the final word. "I'm not against sex. It was clever of God to put the survival of the species on it. It's just all the attachment that goes with it. Sex ends with kids, disease, the end of relationships. Its not worth it. I just want the opposite of that."

Roos' inventive exploration of love and sex in the modern age is laugh-out-loud funny, but he uses the comedy to get at some serious truths. His treatment may be sassy, irreverent and deliciously droll, but in the end the film is actually touching in spite of itself. As characters confront and explore their own sexuality and reexamine their relationships, they discover what really matters, which is what Dedee dubs "The Opposite of Sex"—lasting, committed and loving relationships. What a novel concept in the '90s.

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