Devotion

on June 06, 1995 by Michael Lightcap
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An excitingly self-assured, crisply accomplished Canadian movie set in Vancouver and dealing with lesbian love, this film is the writing/directing debut of a Philadelphia-born therapist turned children's TV show producer. Mindy Kaplan's stated goal here is to dramatize romantic obsession, jealousy and commitment in terms of female love while keeping these themes rooted as universal dilemmas. She mostly succeeds, lacing riveting dramatic power with sharp humor in a fashion that makes you wish more movies about straight people were this passionate and profoundly satisfying.
   Jan Derbyshire plays Sheila Caston, a charismatic and witty 35-year-old openly homosexual standup comic--a gay Ellen DeGeneres (an opening seven-minute routine is a knockout) whose big break arrives when she's offered the lead in a TV sitcom about a lesbian. Her agent (Eileen Barrett) is poised to close this yummy deal when Sheila abruptly has second thoughts; the show's producer, Lynn Webster (Cindy Girling), is her now-married ex-platonic friend who 15 years ago literally shoved Sheila out the door of their home when Sheila kissed the sexually unsure Lynn for the first time. Instead of getting over her torch fantasy to accept this peace offering, Sheila does everything she can to avoid Lynn, kill the deal, be evasive with her five-year live-in lover (Kate Twa) and wallow in tragic self-pity.
   A former standup comic, Derbyshire is a star in the making, a superb and exuberant actress with a fearless emotional range that makes it obvious why Sheila is the magnetic locus of her lesbian nightclub crowd and why her major confrontation and love scene with Lynn triggers a long-overdue explosion of suppressed mutual passion. For its part, until its last 20 minutes "Devotion" is poised to become a contemporary classic. But the confrontational resolution required to give the story a believable ending is sidestepped in favor of stubborn self-pity from Sheila and an ambiguous nine-minute silent montage that culminates in a glib finale. Just as Sheila runs scared whenever she must confront negative feelings, Kaplan's script backs away from a needed verbal blowout among the key characters. Otherwise, "Devotion" is a tour de force, making one look forward to much more from Kaplan and Derby-shire. Starring Jan Derbyshire, Kate Twa, Cindy Girling and Eileen Barrett. Directed and written by Mindy Kaplan. Produced by Lisa King and Pamela S. Kuri. A Northern Arts release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 123 min.
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