×

Film Review: ‘Valencia’

Driven more by style and attitude than by narrative, this freefrom adaptation of Michelle Tea's cult novel/memoir is always stimulating but a little exhausting.

With:
Tanya Wischerath, Heather Acs, Shawna Elizabeth, Annie Danger, Morgan Bassichis, Stephany Joy Ashley, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Michelle Tea, Rowan Parker, Quinn Cassidy, Kim Bainum, T.E. Clough, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Allison Jones, Sarah Manuwal, Christina Coupal, Haley Koch, Terra Naomi, Ginger Robinson, Space Devon Bouvier, Rowan Parks, Margaret Douglas, Zari Estan, Lisa Haas, Erin Markey, Courtney Trouble.

An adventurous experiment letting loose 20 directors on Michelle Tea’s cult-adored novel/memoir, “Valencia” is as much deconstruction as adaptation. An equal number of actors — not all of them female  — play Tea’s hapless heroine, who petulantly plows through numerous girlfriends, jobs, artistic aspirations and mind-altering substances in the punky lesbian hipster scene of pre-dot-com-boom 1990s San Francisco. Like the book, the episodic pic is driven more by style and attitude than by narrative; while the constant diversity of approach is always stimulating, at nearly two hours it grows a little exhausting. Nonetheless, further fest travel and niche ancillary sales are assured.

We first meet “Michelle” as she expresses her dissatisfaction with a tedious rent-paying day job and semi-girlfriend Willa, who seems to want some kind of relationship without commitment or sex. Soon shedding both, she gets a new g.f. in Georgia emigre Iris (played, like the central character, by numerous thesps), and briefly finds new high-paying but low-morale employment at a Marin bordello.

There’s much hanging out, clubbing, drinking, occasional drugging and angsting over each new love’s failings. “I’m an artist! And a lover!” Michelle keeps protesting. But her attention span re: the latter activity is not so hot, and it takes a while before she actually has an artistic outlet (as we see her read at open-mike nights).

Among the more notable segments are a magic-mushroom trip sequence partially done as claymation; an uncomfortable road trip to the heartland for Iris’ prudish sister’s wedding; a slumming period with manic Space (Space Devon Bouvier), who believes he communicates with UFOs; and a new relationship with Cecelia (Rowan Parks), a knife-play enthusiast and alcoholic who initially satisfies all Michelle’s wild-side desires, but then disappoints by cleaning up her act. By the end our frequently bridge-burning heroine has acquired “a tiny army of girls I needed to avoid.”

Stubbornly freeform (several segments don’t have any screenplay credits), “Valencia” also makes room for footage shot at San Francisco’s Dyke March and Gay Pride Parade; briefly “repurposed” pre-existing footage of Winona Ryder and other recognizable faces; sequences in which, without explanation, we’re suddenly in Brooklyn, Austin or Portland; and others where men in or out of drag are ostensibly playing the primary lesbian characters. One uniting factor is a soundtrack of vintage queercore and alt-rock tracks by bands like Team Dresch, Bratmobile, Tribe 8, Bikini Kill and Pansy Division.

The filmmakers — most but not all gay — include some familiar indie names (Cheryl Dunye, Jill Soloway, Silas Howard) as well as video artists, documentarians and a lesbian porn specialist. Like the onscreen Michelle, who’s whining about her lovelife one minute and picking a fight with a huge bouncer the next, results are all over the map. The effect is often bracing, but the lack of any real narrative or emotional throughline means there’s little cumulative impact, further underlined by the non-ending.

Shot in myriad formats, ranging from gritty to earnest, campy and experimental in tone, “Valencia” is nothing if not resourceful. Numerous original scenesters (Tea included) make cameo appearances, no doubt with a certain nostalgic wistfulness — the San Francisco of cheap communal crash pads, fringe galleries and dive bars depicted here is very far from the city today, with its sky-high cost of living and Valencia Street itself drastically altered by gentrification. If Tea wrote the book now, it would probably be set in Portland.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Valencia'

Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, July 2, 2013. (In Frameline, Outfest.) Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: A Radar Prods. presentation. Produced by Hilary Goldberg, Michelle Tea. Executive producers, Jeff Jones, Ali Liebegott, Elizabeth Pickens.

Crew: Directed by  Hilary Goldberg, Silas Howard, Cheryl Dunye, Aubree Bernier-Clarke, Lares Feliciano, Dia Felix, Alexa Inkeles, Jerry Lee Abram, Peter Anthony, Sharon Barnes, Cary Cronenwett, Bug Davidson, Samuael Topiary, Olivia Parriott, Jill Soloway, Courtney Trouble, Michelle Lawler, Sara St. Martin Lynne, Greg Youmans, Chris Vargas. Screenplay, Matilda Bickers, Felciano, Goldberg, St. Martin Lynne, Lawler, Inkeles, Abram, Anthony, Barnes, Angela Cheng, Courtney Trouble, based on the novel by Michelle Tea. Camera (color/B&W, HD), Aubree-Bernier, Renny McCauley, Illona Berger, Lawler, Ben Peyser, Jessica Fisher, Komel, Eric Spears, Kim Spurlock Ane Katrina, Bindesboll, Gigi Gizzer, Charli Toratani, Topiary, Pariott; editors, Aubree-Bernier, Sarah Altshulter, Goldberg, Bonnie Rae Brickman, Erin Greenwell, Erin Harper, Howard, Inkeles, Abram, Anthony, Cheng, Siobhan Aluvalot, Frederick Kolouch, Dunye, Lupe Nunez, Topiary, Pariott.

With: Tanya Wischerath, Heather Acs, Shawna Elizabeth, Annie Danger, Morgan Bassichis, Stephany Joy Ashley, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Michelle Tea, Rowan Parker, Quinn Cassidy, Kim Bainum, T.E. Clough, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Allison Jones, Sarah Manuwal, Christina Coupal, Haley Koch, Terra Naomi, Ginger Robinson, Space Devon Bouvier, Rowan Parks, Margaret Douglas, Zari Estan, Lisa Haas, Erin Markey, Courtney Trouble.

More Film

  • Baby

    Latido Takes Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Baby” (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Latido Films has taken world sales rights outside Spain on Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Baby,” a drama with a psychological thriller narrative thrust starring Rosie Day (“Down a Dark Hall”), Harriet Sansom Harris (“Phantom Thread”), Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”), Charo López (“All Night Long”) and young actress Mafalda Carbonell (“To Live Twice”). [...]

  • Noahs Ark

    India’s Symbiosys to Co-Produce, Co-Animate Gullane’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Noah’s Ark – A Musical Adventure,” Brazil’s most ambitious animated feature ever, just got a bit bigger with the announcement that producers Fabiano Gullane’s Gullane, Walter Salles’ Videofilmes and Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP will be joined by leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies as co-producers and co-animators. The partnership marks the first occasion [...]

  • Navarra

    Navarre Film Commission Celebrates First Decade at San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —    Since the 1950s, Spain has been a favorite European shooting locale. One of the biggest reasons remains its easily accessible, unique and diverse locations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past June, the Navarre Film Commission kicked off a traveling exhibition which has been touring Spain over the summer and will present [...]

  • Rambo Last Blood

    Film Review: 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    Home has always been an abstract concept for John Rambo, which is what the last scene of 2008’s otherwise expendable “Rambo” sequel finally gave the iconic Sylvester Stallone character: a moment when this unsettled Vietnam War survivor, looking very much the worse for wear, lumbers up to a mailbox bearing the character’s surname. At last, [...]

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

  • There's Something in the Water

    Toronto Film Review: 'There’s Something in the Water'

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the unpleasant sights, smells and pollutants of industry have typically been located where the poor folk dwell, and police society needn’t notice. With the dawn of popular environmental consciousness about a half-century ago, it became clear that toxic byproducts with a dismayingly long shelf life and unknown (or, [...]

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content