Film review: Canadian rom-com Better Than Chocolate still sweet after all these years

By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Film critic

SAN FRANCISCO — Farce: A light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot

Monty Python movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Home Alone movies are all farce. I haven’t seen much of it lately, but in 1999 there was a story set in Vancouver about lesbians, transwomen, parents, and being a wild, free, newly out young woman. It’s all in a film called Better Than Chocolate.

The story opens in a nightclub/lesbian bar. Our lead character, Maggie (Karyn Dwyer), is on stage with the transwoman Judy (Peter Outerbridge). Along with several other performers, they are doing a lip-sync dance routine. The number ends and the diminutive Maggie dressed in angel costume is walking home when she’s accosted by two skinhead males. Things are looking really bad for her when a multi-colored step van comes down the ally, hi-beams on, and frightens the men. Maggie’s soon to be lover and dyke in shining armour, Kim (Christina Cox), steps out of the van to see if Maggie is alright. They exchange glances, but Maggie hurries home. Home is too strong a word; she’s couch surfing at the lesbian bookstore where she works.

The following morning, Maggie wakes up to a ringing phone. It’s her mother, Lila, (Wendy Crewson). Maggie, 19, is a keeper of secrets, big secrets, the most important of which is that she’s gay and  that she dropped out of college. Maggie’s very straight mom has some news.  She’s divorcing Maggie’s father and needs a place to stay. She and Maggie’s brother, Paul (Kevin Mundy), are coming to stay with her — it seems mom believed Maggie’s lie about living in a spacious apartment.

So Maggie quickly finds a spacious apartment to sublet, then she really meets Kim and sparks fly. Things happen; now in addition to her mother coming she is now living with her girlfriend as well.

Mom arrives and feeling lonely and depressed and this is where Judy comes in. She’s a sensitive and caring soul who befriends Lila, who has no idea Judy is transgender. They come to rely upon one another, leaving the audience to wonder how Lila will react when she discovers her daughter is a lesbian and her new best friend is transsexual. The stage is set for a comedic romp I think audiences gay or straight will enjoy.

Mixed in with the comedy are some poignant scenes. Judy’s encounter with a TERF being one of them. Threats and actual violence against gay women that occur at several points in the film. The bookstore, The 10 Percent, is faced with financial ruin because of censorship on gay oriented books and videos. Then there are the skinhead bigots who appear occasionally throughout the movie.

I realized part way into it that I had seen it many years ago. I didn’t remember the exact details but I did recall that my friend and I really enjoyed it and laughed all the way through. I don’t know whether my looking at it as a critic or the shifts in culture were what affected my judgement. When the film was made in 1999 there would have been no complaint about casting a male actor as the transgender woman. The fact that the cast is very white and middle class would not have been much of an issue either. Judy does a song titled I’m not a Fucking Drag Queen that is very much a drag routine. But then I realized it was farce and those things weren’t a problem for me. There is a saying, “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”  If you can keep that in mind, you might really enjoy the film.

Streaming on Amazon Video, $2.99 US.



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