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Review: 'The Guest House' on DVD from Wolfe Video

Review: 'The Guest House' on DVD from Wolfe Video

It’s a tale as old as queer cinema time. Boy dumps girl; girl meets new girl; and this budding friendship eventually becomes a romance. Michael Baumgarten’s new film The Guest House, released last week by Wolfe Video, tells the story of 18-year-old Rachel (Ruth Reynolds), an independent, goth-type, dealing with the recent death of her mother and a break-up from her whiny, spiky haired boyfriend. The summer before leaving for college, Rachel meets Amy (Madeline Merritt) a beautiful new employee of Rachel’s strict father, who is staying in the family’s guesthouse while she gets settled in LA.

At the start of the film, Rachel, the personification of the teenage bad girl, and her boyfriend have returned to Rachel’s house after an all night outing. Dressed in all black with heavy make-up, she’s sassy and unapologetic, even as he breaks up with her, citing the fact that they will both soon be leaving for college. While the dialogue in this scene (and often times throughout the movie) feels awkward and inorganic, Reynolds establishes Rachel’s feisty spirit, giving a proverbial finger to her ex beau by stealing his phone and tossing it haphazardly into her yard.

When Rachel sees her father in the kitchen, he berates her for staying out all night. He gives her the “my house, my rules,” mantra - a cliché appropriate in a scene riddled with triteness - but sets the stage for the film’s love story, when he announces that his new employee, a young woman named Amy, will be staying in their guest house, conveniently while Rachel is grounded and her father is out of town.

Over the course of the film, the relationship between Amy and Rachel progresses into a best friendship that becomes and intimate, sexual romance. Refreshingly, it doesn't follow the standard formulae of most lesbian films, which seem to either focus on the older lesbian predator seduction, or the curious straight girl story. Rather, The Guest House is a love story between two women, their pasts irrelevant (at first), but their developing love serving as the paramount factor over the course of the film.

The relationship between Rachel and Amy feels contrived, at times. There is no real discussion of significant past relationships, which would enlighten the viewer on the women's sexuality or path to self-discovery, like in the critically acclaimed 2010 picture, A Room in Rome. Still, the women build their relationship gradually, culminating in an awkward interaction between Amy and Rachel's ex-boyfriend, when he intrudes a private (and naked) moment between the girls in Rachel’s hot tub.

Baumgarten takes risks in his filmmaking, and Reynolds and Merritt both give brave performances. While some of these risks fall short, and while the acting and dialogue, especially among supporting characters, are somewhat stilted, the low-budget film tells a complicated love story, one that is ripe with humor, sex and love. The Guest House is now available on DVD from Wolfe Video.

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Annie Hollenbeck