Jacqueline Richardson ’21 | Assistant Arts Editor
Oh, the lesbian movie! If there exists a genre more fraught and loved to the people it tries to portray, I haven’t heard of it. Dead lovers, sex scenes so obviously shot with a man panting behind the camera and straight actresses fumbling through flat performances fill the film’s minutes, and yet we continue to watch. Of course some successes exist. But these are few.
I am sorry to write that “Snapshots” isn’t one of them. Not to say it doesn’t succeed in some respects — the sex scene is intimate without being voyeuristic, and there is chemistry between Rose (Shannon Collies) and Louise (Emily Goss). But in its quest to artfully weave a weekend lake house getaway for a daughter, mother and grandmother alongside a years-long lesbian affair, “Snapshots” neglects the keystone of character development in a way that renders the whole movie a little shaky.
“Snapshots” begins with Allison (Emily Baldwin) and her mother Patty (Brooke Adams) arriving at their grandmother Rose’s (Piper Laurie) lake house for the weekend. Allison, a photographer, tells Rose that she found an old camera of hers and had the film inside of it developed without looking at it — in case Rose and her late husband were doing something she wouldn’t want to see, she says laughingly.
The photos don’t depict any intimacy with her husband, however; they instead capture a vibrant, red-haired woman, Louise, who was Rose’s lover in the 1960s. As Rose looks through the photos, which show Louise in her happiest, freest moments, she thinks back to their affair in the 1960s, and from here, the movie moves back and forth between exploring the lovers’ past and the three women’s present problems.
“Snapshots” does this well. If presenting three days and a years-long affair as narrative equals is hard, then it doesn’t seem so. Transitions between the two never feel sudden. Feathers, photos and the feel of a blanket send Rose back into the past; the knowledge one must reckon with today’s problems bring it back to the present. But this movie’s clean, careful structure only reveals the fact that the characters it contains are only, at best, blurrily sketched out.
In the present, the relationships the women have with each other define them clearly, but other than that, other defining traits feel tacked on. Allison, for example, is a photographer passionate about her work, but she may as well have been passionate about anything. To the movie, her passion isn’t what matters, but rather, the fact that she has one. This lack of strong characterization infects the actresses’ performances too: in the beginning, they seem to almost not know how to act around each other. An awkwardness stilts their interactions.
But this lack of characterization weakens the movie’s strongest half: the affair. Where “Snapshots” had a chance to tell a story about the relationship between two women hewn in by tradition, it instead uses tropes to prop up their story.
Louise is a manic pixie dream girl — she recites Edna St. Vincent Millay poetry, is an artist, acts with total abandon and most importantly, she exists only to change Rose’s life. And then she dies of cancer. After the movie shows her death, it discloses Louise’s and Rose’s break up. Louise begs Rose to run away with her, and, coldly, Rose tells her that she can’t do that — she has a husband, and she wants a child, which Louise could never give her. It is only in this breakup scene that this fundamental difference is addressed. But instead of making me feel that this difference had finally, tragically come to an end, it divulged how the movie didn’t bother to cover its tracks.
I wondered, instead, how a woman so determined to break convention could be attracted to a woman so unquestioningly married to it.