As U.S. gay-themed movies get more mainstream in flavor and polish yet remain mostly relegated to arthouse exposure, pics such as “It’s in the Water” pose a conundrum. Much brighter than earlier slick indie lesbian romances like “Clare of the Moon” and “Bar Girls,” yet not nearly so urban-hip as “Go Fish” or “The Incredibly True Story …,” Texas-shot feature is at base a very populist, smoothly executed comedy.
But current state of niche marketing may make life tough for this pretty broad (if sharp) starless effort, which approaches its central lesbian theme in terms neither edgy enough for arthouse tastes nor sexploitative enough for crossover theatrical/vid/cable biz. Word of mouth and a dedicated distrib’s efforts rep the best chance for an aud fave (the SF Gay Fest crowd went nuts) that just needs ready access to its constituency.
Setting is the manicured suburbia of Southern burg Azalea Springs. Here, protag Alex (Keri Jo Chapman) grudgingly acquiesces to her shrill mother’s (Beverly May) socialite ambitions, while barely aware of her own restlessness in an indifferent marriage. The Junior League’s latest volunteer project is a stint at Hope House, the local AIDS hospice — a task that not all members are happy about, to say the least.
When they collectively ankle, Alex makes her own break, resigning from “the League” and taking on a full-time job at the hospice — to the horror of both her mom and husband (Matthew S. Tompkins). Meanwhile, Alex’s defiantly “out” friend Spencer (John Hallum) starts a roguish rumor that the local water supply is “contaminated” with something that “turns” people gay. This idiotic notion gains hysterical public momentum when the town’s newspaper tycoon decides to report it as front-page news, even as his own son (Derrick Sanders) struggles to exit the closet.
Things get uglier when a clergyman who runs the local rap group (“Homo No Mo’ “) for allegedly “ex-gay” men starts a homophobic picket line outside Hope House. Alex is appalled — and alarmed by her growing attraction to the onetime high school best friend (Teresa Garrett) newly returned from a broken marriage to manage hospice operations.
Writer-director Kelli Herd expertly juggles numerous narrative strands, maintaining an emphasis on “Stepford Wives”-style suburbia satire while allowing the serious issues raised their appropriate weight. Contrivance sometimes rears, with some bits too farcical and others too treacly. (In particular, the “inspirational” climax at an older gay man’s funeral — accompanied by full black gospel choir — hits a false note, especially since the movie soft-pedals its conservative milieu’s racial divides.) But, for the most part, “It’s in the Water” works nicely as romantic comedy, as farce, and as an ultimately good-natured assault on prejudice.
Perfs are a bit variable but generally persuasive. Chapman anchors the pic by balancing almost too-perfect blond looks against an appealing, common-sensical manner. Her opposite numbers are May’s monster-mom and Nancy Chartier’s equally nasty queen-of-the-debs Sloan, two caricatures that go over-the-top in broad but bull’s-eye fashion. Tech package has a slick, conventional sheen.