Some Prefer Cake

Like several entries in a recent spate of lesbian romantic comedies, "Some Prefer Cake" works better capturing a cultural milieu than in turning up any truly distinctive plot or character depths. While not terribly slick or memorable, however, pic sidesteps most of its predecessors' other flaws --- pretension, cliche romanticism, howl-producing dialogue --- to create an engaging diversion that should please gay fest and specialized theatrical auds.

Like several entries in a recent spate of lesbian romantic comedies, “Some Prefer Cake” works better capturing a cultural milieu than in turning up any truly distinctive plot or character depths. While not terribly slick or memorable, however, pic sidesteps most of its predecessors’ other flaws — pretension, cliche romanticism, howl-producing dialogue — to create an engaging diversion that should please gay fest and specialized theatrical auds.

The milieu in this case is San Francisco’s hip, polysexual Castro Street/Mission District twentysomething society; debut feature helmer Heidi Arnesen’s major achievement is putting that atmosphere onscreen in credible, funny-yet-uncaricatured form.

Primary focus is on two longtime best friends: Kira (Kathleen Fontaine), a comic-book warehouse day-jobber who writes material for her successful East Coast comic sister but can’t seem to launch her own standup career; and Sydney (Tara Howley), whose aspirations of becoming a restaurant critic haven’t gotten much farther. Kira keeps herself at emotional arm’s length via one-night stands with myriad women. Sydney seems much less excited about her current, devoted b.f. than she is about the chocolate cake regularly scarfed down at pal Devon’s (Leon Acord) cafe.

While these and a few additional friends rely heavily on one another for support, the various transitions each is going through — mostly romantic and career indecision — take their collective toll. Despite a new, atypically serious involvement with inexperienced Robin (Desi del Valle), Kira grows surly and combative. (It doesn’t help that she’s simultaneously being “stalked” by a prior date, played in farcical femme fatale mode by Machiko Saito.) Oversensitive and a tad neurotic, Sydney soon suffers her own social withdrawal.

Nothing notable happens to set these relationships back on terra firma. The characters lack anything much in the way of back stories, so we have to take their behavior at face value — yet they do seem true to a certain breezy, self-absorbed contrariness that rules much of young S.F. single life. Pic also conveys the no-big-deal way that friendships can cut across sexual-preference and racial boundaries here.

Though thesp Fontaine performs in a real-life local comedy troupe, and the standup material was written by various local funnypersons, major problem is that Kira’s club perfs aren’t funny when they’re supposed to be — so her success in that area doesn’t seem very important, or likely. Script is more amusing in several ensemble set pieces, from a lesbian sushi-bar party to an inept camping trip and discomfiting multi-couple dinner. Sydney’s happy ending (a sexual loosening-up) seems to come out of nowhere.

Pacing is smart, perfs lively and likable, with Howley lending Sydney’s inchoate vulnerabilities some real poignancy. OK tech package has both clever touches and a few clueless moments visually; sound recording is also a tad uneven.

Some Prefer Cake

Production: An Up All Night Prods. presentation. Produced by Heidi Arnesen, Jeannie Kahaney, Mathew J. Siegel. Directed, edited by Heidi Arnesen. Screenplay, Jeannie Kahaney.

Crew: Camera (color , 16mm), Mathew J. Siegel; music, Eskimo; sound, Lauretta Molitor. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, June 10, 1997. (In S.F. Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With: With: Kathleen Fontaine, Tara Howley, Desi del Valle, Leon Acord, Machiko Saito, Tammy Dubose, John Flaa, Mimi Gonzalez, David Schendel, DeVone Minters, Pola Mazursky, Doug Holsclaw, Julia Jackson, Suzy Berger.

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