What happens when San Francisco meets mentally challenged people? A really bad movie. The Other Sister (1999), in fact.
Zealous, politically incorrect right-wingers might say San Francisco is already retarded, but we’re not going to go there today. Today, we are going to talk about privilege.
The Tate family is well-to-do and resides in a fictional community called Sutter Hills, 15 minutes away from the bustle of the city. Geographically, possible Marin Country folks. Politically? Not in the least.
Radley (Tom Skerritt), the previously boozy father, consoles the unbending matriarch (Diane Keaton) with the reassurance that “we’re doing fine. [The kids are] not drug addicts, they’re not axe murderers, they’re not Democrats.” Whoa there! Not Democrats? This is the 415 we’re talking about, right?
There’s a big disconnect between the Tate family and the Bay Area attitude. They’re more New England than NorCal (e.g., they own a sailboat). Then again, five of New England’s six states have legalized/will legalize gay marriage. California, not so much.
Which, believe it or not, comes into play in The Other Sister. Caroline (Poppy Montgomery) gets married in an extravagant wedding. Carla (Juliette Lewis), the “different” one, even gets married. So who’s the real other sister? The lesbian, Heather (Sarah Paulson). The relationship of Heather and her mother suggests that her mother has never included her partner in family gathering nor acknowledged her presence. It’s one thing to have a daughter with mental disabilities, but a lesbian? Don’t let the maid get too close to her.
In the end, the mother finally meets Michelle, Heather’s partner, but there won’t be a third wedding any time soon. Lesbians don’t get married, silly! Now hush up, while we watch this “special” chick say her own wedding vows. Precious.
So the Tates don’t represent the dominant Bay Area political culture, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely useless. Even though the mother admits that she’d prefer not to have a gay daughter, she’s committed to throwing her money to gay rights groups (aww). They have oodles of money and go to the country club, but by George, they wil donate their money to good, socially progressive causes! To some extent, even Carla’s education is progressive enough for Bay Area approval. The parents sent her to a special school for kids with mental disabilities with a staff so progressive that even the cafeteria worker told Carla all about the birds and the bees. While sitting at the Palace of Fine Arts, Carla loudly tells her mother about coitus: the penis, the vulva, and the semen. Such beautiful, grown-up words, enough to make a sex-positive San Franciscan proud. Her mother tells her that’s enough.
It’s possible that we hate the mother so much because she’s not the San Franciscan stereotype. But it’s more possible that the bay backdrop means nothing at all. Why not New England? The Other Sister explores the smothering mother and family dynamics; mental disability and, to an even lesser extent, San Francisco are not the real issues here. Red state, blue state, buttsex or butthurt, the Tates prove that money cannot buy love. But who cares about love when your bitch mother will pay for your second story apartment with Georgian bay windows?
Starring San Francisco is Appeal culture reporter, Christine Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a locally-set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at firstname.lastname@example.org.