Movie Review - S&M Sally

Michelle Ehlen completes her trilogy, which started with Butch Jamie in 2007 and continued with Heterosexual Jill in 2013. Ehlen plays Jamie, a lesbian who comes across as a bit more masculine. She's dating and is in love with Jill, played by Jen McPherson. Jill is the lesbian here who is a bit more feminine. In fact, she's a lot more feminine, just in terms of traditional or even stereotypical feminine features. The previous two movies established and dealt with the identities of these two women. Now, it's about how the two work together. As a mechanism for that, the two decide to explore the world of BDSM, or Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism.

This isn't Fifty Shades of Grey, or a documentary like Kink or Folsom Forever. This is a light comedy. It isn't mocking BDSM or making any judgements. It's merely stumbling its way through it, further introducing that world to the queer community. Actually, for a movie about BDSM, the BDSM here is pretty tame.

Written and directed by Michelle Ehlen, there is an early moment where Jamie and Jill walk into a BDSM bar or underground club that's reminiscent of Tom Cruise's character entering the private party in Eyes Wide Shut. Yet, it's nowhere near as graphic, raunchy or hardcore in terms of what Ehlen puts in camera frame.

What we see could more be described as just a leather party with people hanging around and posing. This movie dips its toe into the BDSM water. It doesn't dive or splash into it. It's not The Duke of Burgundy. The most extreme thing is someone licking another person's foot. No one experiences or simulates true pain.

BDSM is all about pain and how that stimulates sexual pleasure, but we never see any character experiencing sexual pleasure here. At least, with But I'm a Cheerleader, we see a girl having an orgasm on screen. There's none of that here. Ehlen makes her film not about the sex. She makes it more about the relationship. Sorry ladies! There isn't any overt nudity. No exposed breasts or vulvas!

I feel like Ehlen's films have been the lesbian equivalent of the Eating Out series, but the third Eating Out film did give full-frontal, male nudity. This perhaps says more about what women want as opposed to what men want. There is a brief shot of a woman's butt, but that's about the extent of it.

As Jamie and Jill explore the BDSM world, there's a B-story involving Jamie's ex-girlfriend Lola and Jamie's best friend David. Shaela Cook plays Lola and Scott Keiji Takeda plays David. Both characters have been in all three in Ehlen's trilogy, but, unlike Jamie, the characters have been played by different actors. Cook played Lola in the previous film but not in the first. Takeda is new. He was in another film Ehlen produced. In fact, a different actor has played the character of David in all three of the trilogy.

Lola and David are rivals, rivals for Jamie's time and affection. The rivalry seems to have calmed, but it's kicked up again when Lola who is bisexual decides to set up David with her own boyfriend Sebastian, played by Adrian Gonzalez (August and Your Family or Mine). Lola seems to have a problem with Sebastian who is also bisexual being with another guy, so she uses David because she thinks she can control David and thus Sebastian.

For David, he states that he's more into monogamy than the polyamory and open relationship that Lola and Sebastian want. Unless Ehlen explains it in the next film, I don't see the point of having David do something he obviously doesn't want to do for someone he'll never truly have, not in the way he wants. The ending doesn't suggest that David, Lola and Sebastian will be a happy threesome from now until the end of time.

At the end, Jamie states that trying BDSM was in part about trying something new just to try something new. For David, it's most likely the same thing. He's getting outside his comfort zone and trying something new, a la polyamory. That isn't specifically articulated. David simply comes off as desperate to have sex with Sebastian, but why?

There's this idea that David is having trouble finding a boyfriend, so he needs this, but Takeda is such a good-looking guy and such a nice guy that it's difficult to buy that he would be this desperate. Perhaps, David's attempt and failure to land José, the hot, Latino guy in the last movie informs his actions here, but it's a suspension of disbelief that's still difficult. I don't buy that David would have trouble finding a boyfriend for any reason, unless he simply wasn't trying, nor do I buy that Sebastian is "the hottest guy in L.A." You could probably go to any beach or any gym in southern California and find just as hot, if not hotter guys than Sebastian.

Other than Jamie's awkward attempts at BDSM, the comedy of this movie comes from Lola and David's rivalry over Sebastian. However, the song "Death to Vanilla Sex" by Count Boogie, which plays over the opening and closing credits, is absolutely hilarious. It's by far one of the funniest things in the movie, along with a silly cupcake metaphor.

Yet, the heart of the film is Jamie and Jill's relationship. Jamie and Jill both have to reconcile their insecurities about what the other wants or even what they want. There's a very interesting issue that Jamie has where she is scared of being boring but she also is scared of being the bottom, or the submissive. Jill tries to make the point that one's role in BDSM, or in the bedroom, doesn't necessarily define who you are outside the bedroom, or some cases, dungeon. It makes an interesting point of how we all assume roles, depending on where we are and what we're doing.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 18 mins.

The film has its world premiere at the Frameline Film Festival, Frameline39, on Sunday, June 21. For show times and tickets, go to Frameline's web site. For more information and future screenings, go to the film's Facebook page or follow on Twitter @SMSallyMovie.


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