Butch Jamie (DVD Review)16 Nov, 2008 By: Laura Tiffany
Stars Michelle Ehlen.
It’s no secret that Hollywood favors actresses of a certain type — pretty, youthful, thin. While some talented but unconventional women leap this hurdle through their talent — Kathy Bates comes to mind, as does Frances McDormand — they’re often the exception rather than the rule.
So what does an actress do when she’s so far off the charts of typical Hollywood beauty that she’s often mistaken for a man?
In Butch Jamie, the titular character (Ehlen) at first dons uncomfortable femme disguises for auditions. But when a wig and pantyhose still don’t offer a competitive threat to all those wannabe ingénues, Jamie laces up her Docs, spikes her short bleached hair and ditches her makeup to be herself — butch Jamie — which promptly lands her a male role in a no-budget indie, as well as a beautiful new girlfriend who thinks she’s a man.
This twist on Tootsie is itself a no-budget indie, but its sincerity, humor and sharp satirical edge give it a leg up. Truly butch lesbians don’t have much of a presence in mainstream pop culture — Gina Gershon in Bound or Ellen DeGeneres aren’t likely to get mistaken on a regular basis for a man.
Ehlen is, and as star/writer/producer/director/editor on her first feature, she tackles this potentially uncomfortable territory — after all, it’s her looks we’re talking about — with brave aplomb.
The script playfully explores gender roles and sexual identity, forcing Jamie to not just confront prejudice about her looks, but her own prejudices as well. The supporting characters are interesting, and a running gag about a cat actor should be tired by the end, but then provides one of the film’s goofiest moments.
This fresh entry into the gay cinema pantheon will hopefully, through word-of-mouth and festival awards, find a larger audience who can appreciate a film that skews the conventions of Hollywood and stars a character we’ve never met before.