I read Tom Robbins' EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES as a teenager. I loved every word. It was sexy, funny, and full of glamorous scenery and beautiful writing. But when I saw the movie, I could not believe what a dull, sour, joyless piece of junk it was. How did this happen? I think someone in Hollywood read this book and filed it under "GAY PRIDE -- WOMEN -- LESBIANS." (That's the Library of Congress subject heading.) Now anyone over 12 who reads the book will know it has NOTHING TO DO with real lesbians, any more than STAR WARS is about real space travel. The book was obviously -- and I do mean OBVIOUSLY --written by a heterosexual male who loves the IDEA of lesbians (in the nude, all the time)but has never really met one.
Still, someone in Hollywood said, "uh oh, better give this to a Gay director or Gay People will make trouble." So they handed it to Gus Van Sant. Nothing against the man, but -- however Gay he may really be -- he has not a clue as to how to make a funny film. Gus Van Sant took a straight man's playful fantasy of guilt-free girl/girl action and male voyeurism turned it into a dull, literal-minded Lesbian Power Recruiting Poster. It's like turning an Oscar Wilde comedy into an Arthur Miller tragedy. Not pretty.
The main clue that Gus Van Sant had absolutely no idea what to do with the source material is the riotously bad casting. His clout allowed him to hire the very best. His ignorance of the novel's real subtext (a straight man's fantasy, not a gay pride recruiting poster)caused him to make choices that were not only bad, but bizarre.
Let's meet the cast of EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES.
PAT MORITA as "THE CHINK" Okay, there are few name-recognition Asian actors. And Pat Morita, in HAPPY DAYS, was fairly funny. But casting him as THE CHINK was wrong, wrong, wrong. Pat Morita has no idea that the Chink is a very funny man. (Gus didn't tell him.) Pat also doesn't seem to know that the Chink is . . . well, SEXY!!! In the book he's not wise old Mr. Miyagi. He's more like Hugh Hefner! He's a randy old goat and he knows A LOT about pleasing the nubile and responsive Sissy AND Bonanza Jellybean. (You see, in the book, they aren't REALLY lesbians. Do you get that this is a straight man's fantasy yet?)
JOHN HURT as "THE COUNTESS." Okay, he's a gay friendly man. But he is a SERIOUS, SHAKESPEAREAN ACTOR!!!! You need someone who is fun, and camp, for this role. For John Hurt to be cast as a goofy guy like the Countess is tragic and sad. I kept expecting Paul Scofield to wander in all dressed up as Thomas More, and sadly shake his head. "Now, Richard, you know you've lost your soul entirely. For shame, my former student!" And yes, John Hurt was funny (and pretty gay) as Caligula. But that was BLACK humor, not playful and breezy humor like the book.
RAIN PHOENIX as "Bonanza Jellybean." No talent, no training, no problem. Except that in the book Bonanza is funny, playful, cheerful, (mostly) heterosexual, and loving. In the movie she's sullen, passive, expressionless, and dull. As for her taste for women, Robbins in the book puts it like this. "God knows I love women, but nothing can take the place of a man that fits." Uh, Gus? Did you read this book?
UMA THURMAN as "Sissy Hankshaw." This is a tough role. In the book Sissy really is an unusually passive and timid heroine. Still, a more accomplished actress might have manufactured a twinkle in her eye, or a sway in her walk, to imply some sort of hidden strength or hidden enjoyment of her adventures. Uma doesn't pull it off, probably because Gus never told her Sissy is supposed to ENJOY being a hitch hiker with a beautiful body and giant thumbs. Uma plays it more like she's in a TV movie about a girl dying of leukemia.
This movie is sour and dull. And I accuse YOU, Gus Van Sant!
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