SPOILERS FOR ELENA UNDONE HERE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I recently saw the film Elena Undone. I thought, okay, Tracy Dinwiddie is in it and I like her well enough, so I stuck it on my queue and watched it.
The plot is fairly standard: a woman (Necar Zadegan) married to a pastor discovers she has feelings for her new gay friend (Dinwiddie), follows through on those feelings, and has her life flipped as a result. She and her husband are trying to have a second child in an attempt to fix their marriage. This type of plot comes up a lot in the romance genre whether the characters are gay or not, so I wasn't looking for anything really brain-bending, but a lot of films manage to provide a nice fresh spin on things. This one had an interesting bent from the beginning: shown initially through the eyes of not the woman or her lover, but the woman's best friend, a man who makes a study of something he calls 'Soulemetry', or the meeting of that other soul that fulfills and completes you. This particular character is doing a documentary on couples' stories, and the film itself claims to be based on true stories; his interviews with different couples, gay and straight and in between, are scattered throughout. And that was the neat part. In retrospect, I'd much rather see the actual documentary on that, you know?
Right up front, he makes this statement about the soul you want and need and connect with not necessarily arriving in a physical form you expect or desire. He uses himself as an example: he's not really a Cary Grant, but this amazing, gorgeous woman came along (his wife) and fell head over heels with him, and he with her. And he cautions people to keep their hearts and minds open, to step outside societal expectations. It's a nice message. Until you start realizing that, aside from the interview couples who all look pretty normal and seem to fit this rubric of finding the unexpected... every other couple portrayed is sort of ridiculously hot. What's more, the women are ridiculously hot. Dinwiddie (Peyton) is hot. Zadegan (Elena) is SMOKING hot. Soulemetry man's wife is hot, Elena’s son's girlfriend is extremely cute, etc, etc. Meanwhile, most of the men do not exactly fit into a Brad Pitt-esque rubric.
So I started rolling my eyes a little, but the story is otherwise nicely told for a while, good pacing, good acting, etc.
Then there's the completely bigoted church member, a woman who obviously has the hots for Elena’s pastor husband. The husband himself is not a bigoted cliché, so that was nice, at least. They almost step over into Brokeback territory in that you feel the actual devastation of the breaking marriage, not just the righteous demolition of a straight mismatch... but not quite. And I'll tell you why.
They minimize the effect on the teenage son, for one thing: he starts drinking and stealing in these tiny sideline shots that you will miss if you blink. They give him the role of angst-driver, finding all the evidence of this affair and then confronting his mother in another 'wow, did that scene actually last a whole minute?' conversation that is supposed to make you feel for both of them but actually just makes you wonder if the writers are going to commit to a particular moral point or if they're just going to throw this stuff in to check off a box. They give the son's girlfriend a cheerful, wise, all-understanding attitude that would work if her character again did not seem like it is there specifically to set people down the proper path. They make the husband an Other by showing him as the giver of coarse, unfulfilling sex, which seems like an honest conveyance of their unsuccessful relationship... until they show the sex between Elena and her female lover, Peyton. Because they PORN IT UP. I was so dismayed, I don't even— Yeah. It was the music. The scenes themselves would be pretty tasteful if not for the sultry back beat going on as two hot young women writhe sinuously together. It could have been so sexy and so tender in all the right ways, but instead it felt cheap and manipulative.
And then. Inevitable outing of affair. Inevitable break up of lesbian lovers. Inevitable divorce of straight couple. I was expecting this; you don't build this kind of scenario without understanding that it's going to come crashing down around the ears of everyone involved. The actual parting of Elena and her husband is done fairly well, fairly genuinely, except for the fact that, again, it's a little too short, given the time they spend on everything else. No, the problem comes afterward, when six months later, Elena and Peyton meet again, in the park with Peyton’s best friend (maybe the only character I don't have a caustic comment for, though she does fall into certain 'been there, done that' dialogue toward the end), Elena's Soulemetry best friend and his wife, Elena's teen son and son's wise girlfriend... and we discover that Elena did, in fact, get pregnant, and that she's pretty far along.
Understandable chaos ensues as Peyton accuses Elena of lying to her while they were having their affair (Elena claimed her husband never touched her after she'd started up with Peyton). In a fit of deus ex machina, pregnant Elena freaks and collapses. Luckily, the writers do not make the mistake of using that collapse to fix everything: you know, the old scene of 'I’ll sit by your bedside clasping your hand apologizing for being such a complete nitwit and making grandiose declarations of love and we'll raise the baby together, OMG.'
No. They do this instead:
Elena's Soulemetry best friend is the father. Sperm donation. Elena wanted to get pregnant, he helped, his wife was fine with it, everyone's fine with it, pretty bows, yay! And I don't know if it was just unbelievable in delivery or if it was more the fact that it came out of nowhere for the sole purpose of causing more angst, but I think— and I'm just postulating here— it's because Soulemetry guy ends up coming across as the not-gorgeous man sitting high above with his arms spread godlike over his flock of beautiful women, one of whom he is married to, the other of whom is having his baby, smiling benevolently at how everything turned out fantastically and he is the one who did it all.
So what is the point of this movie anyway? Porny lesbian porny porn? A finger wagging at conservative religious beliefs everywhere? A statement on the fact that family obviously takes a backseat to finding soulmates? A comment on the very unconventional family and its right to exist? A backhanded argument for the continued existence of societal norms in terms of physical appearance? A demonstration of how, for all that exploration of finding your own way in life and love regardless of gender stereotypes, it's still the man's role to make everything superhappyfunsparkly for women?
I wanted to scream.