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Watchable tale, though neither meaningful nor romantic
on 27 October 2008
"Loving Annabelle" is a passably-scripted and -acted tale of illicit passion at a Catholic boarding school, but one thing it is not, I have to say, contrary to other reviews, is a beautiful love story. The somewhat familiar story follows a teenager (Erin Kelly), the "Annabelle" of the title, who, having been expelled from a number of previous schools, winds up at the aforementioned Catholic institution and is immediately attracted to her English teacher, Simone Bradley (Diane Gaidry). Bored by her relationship with her nice but dull boyfriend, Simone is unwilling to make the commitment he is pushing for, and instead spends increasing amounts of time with the rebellious student, Annabelle.
OK, so we've got a hot English teacher (check), we've got a rebellious teenager with stated lesbian tendencies (check) and the repressive yet charged atmosphere of an all-girls' Catholic boarding school, complete with uniforms, crucifixes, rosary beads and a swimming pool that appears to be lit up at night (lots of checks here). I think the set-up - not to mention the title of this flick - mean we can all see where this is going, right? Of course, Simone and Annabelle develop a relationship, one that is - it goes without saying - secret, forbidden and even illegal.
Now, whilst I understand the appeal of themes of illicit passion in gay and lesbian interest films, there is something about "Loving Annabelle"'s plot and characterisation that does feel particularly calculated and gratuitous. I almost felt, as I sat down to watch the DVD, knowing full well the story involved Catholic schoolgirls and uniforms and all the rest, that there was something vaguely distasteful about the film, and something voyeuristic about me for watching it. I think that's where my problem with the idea of this being a "love story" begins, although not where it ends.
Simone and Annabelle may have the hots for each other, but love is harder to believe. These characters don't know very much about each other, and whilst there might be a mutual attraction, there is not as far as I can see any deep connection between these two. The Annabelle character has been written as overly worldy-wise and perceptive, presumably so that her hookup with a teacher who must be at least twice her age is more palatable, but the bravado Annabelle displays would most likely only work on students of her own age. An adult some fifteen or more years' older as Simone is, would, I feel, recognise Annabelle's posturing as the misplaced arrogance of youth. Simone, for her part, appears weak and easily-led; she is with a man she patently has no real interest in and yet she struggles to end the relationship with him. Simone almost comes across as if she falls into an inappropriate relationship with a female student because she can't summon up the energy or bravery to hit a gay bar.
Despite its lack of subtlety or real depth in plotting and characterisation, "Loving Annabelle" does get some things right. The cinematography is lush and vivid and generally very appealling for a film reportedly shot in a total of three weeks. The script hits the right note in a few places, and is notably on the money in the scene where Annabelle reveals to her roommates that she has slept with a woman; the responses vary from indifference to curiosity to sudden sexual interest in Annabelle herself, which is probably in the modern climate a more realistic range of reaction to confessions of lesbian experience than seen elsewhere (e.g. the mass hysteria that breaks out for dramatic purposes in the all-girls boarding school in "Lost and Delirious", though that is in many ways a superior film to this one). In addition, the crucial love scene itself is surprisingly well-done.
As Annabelle and Simone grow closer, the film ambles around a bit, until it seems someone realised it needed to end, and gave it a rather half-hearted finale. I get the impression the filmmakers struggled to know how to bring the curtain down on this tale.
All-in-all, "Loving Annabelle" is a reasonably watchable effort, although at times the overly-forced lesbian frission between teacher and pupil is a little embarrassing, even for a lesbian viewer. The film is not, however, for all the sighs, sunlight dappled across the screen, meaningful exchanged glances between female leads and so-on and so forth, very engaging, nor deep or meaningful, nor romantic. In the end, the calculatedly racy set-up of the central female pairing makes the film difficult to take seriously and tricky to take to heart.