Film review: Loving Annabelle a tale of romance defying convention

Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives Film Critic

SAN FRANCISCO — Loving Annabelle is a lesbian drama and romance film. It follows the growing affection between teenage Annabelle (Erin Kelley)and the much older Simone (Diane Gaidry).

The movie begins with the arrival of Annabelle at a strict Catholic boarding school. Annabelle is a rebellious teenager. She’s smart, beautiful and the daughter of a U.S. senator. She has been thrown out of two previous schools and Mom has told her if she doesn’t make it through this high school, the next will be a military school. Fortunately, she’s a senior, so this torture won’t be for long. While she’s a bad girl, usually seen with a cigarette in her hand, she is also sensitive and caring. She comes to the defence of students who are verbally bullied by Gustine Fudickar. Annabelle supplants her as the queen bee of her dorm. We learn early on she has a preference for girls.

Simone teaches English literature and poetry. She’s beautiful, in her mid-30s to early 40s. In addition to her teaching duties, she lives in Annabelle’s dorm where she also acts as a guidance counsellor. She immediately sets off Annabelle’s gaydar. Simone currently is involved with a man, a teacher at another school. He’s pressing her to move in with him but Simone resists. From the tepid sex we see them having, you could say she’s just not into him, but it’s better than being alone. Because she spends most of her time on campus, she’s protected from the realities of the world outside. She is a damaged woman, conflicted about her sexuality and stifled by religiosity. She has built a world that insulates her from having to face these things. There is a scene between Simone and her doppelganger aunt, Mother Superior Immaculata, that makes you wonder if they both have sought refuge in the Church.

Mother Immaculata, Head mistress, is very traditional Catholic and seeks to impose Catholicism even on the non-Catholic students at the school. This brings her into conflict Annabella. Immaculata insists she remove the Buddhist prayer beads she wears around her neck. In fact, she will hang a heavy rosary around her neck for each day she wears her own beads. Simone counsels her and it’s revealed they were a gift from her female lover who moved to Europe with her family. Annabelle asks Simone about the cross she wears and nervously plays with. Simone reveals it was a gift from the woman she loved, who had died. The Sapphic energy between the two women grows. It’s not long before this leads to touching, always initiated by Annabelle, who is relentless in her pursuit of this older woman. She forces Simone to recognize her essential gayness. The remainder of this touching film is the story of how Simone will deal with it.

This film sparked a controversy within the lesbian world and indeed the world in general. It offers a different take on May-December romances. It asks the question: is it always improper for an older adult to become involved with a minor? Annabelle is at least 17, and it’s not like she is an innocent. Indeed, she is the pursuer. Is it wrong for them to love each other? You decide as you watch the pair’s relationship evolve as they move toward Annabelle’s graduation.

One of the main objections to relationships like this one is the power advantage of the adult. Indeed, Simone does have position of power, but on a personal level the power dynamic definitely favours Annabelle. I think it really depends on the people involved. The age of consent — 18 — is a completely arbitrary construct. In most European countries, the age of consent ranges from 14 to 16. In the U.S., 56 percent of high school students will have had sex by the time they graduate. Abstinence rings litter the path to the graduation stage. The enforcement of statutory rape laws is a fairly recent development. In the absence of angry parents or consent, the authorities would let it slide. In the 1960s, John Phillips, the founder of the rock group the Mamas and the Papas, abandoned his wife and child in New York and ran off to Los Angeles with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Michelle. Two years later, they were one of the hottest acts of the era. I think if we need an arbitrary standard, 16 is a more realistic number.

Loving Annabelle is well-made film. Erin Kelley, who was 25 when the film was made, turns in a convincing performance as teenage Annabelle. Diane Gaidry is wonderful as the sad, conflicted Simone. Gustine Fudickar really is that snarky little bitch you knew in high school, with Michelle Horn and Laura Breckenridge completing Annabelle’s posse. These fine actors are blessed with Katherine Brooks’ fine script and direction. Keep in mind this film was made in 2005–2006, when being gay was much more risky than it is today. The consequences of coming out could be much greater.

Settle back on a cold winter’s night and enjoy a different kind of love story.

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