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    Looking at A Different Story Decades Later

    By Gary Kramer–

    Now available on Blu-ray and DVD is the 1978 queer romantic comedy-drama A Different Story. The film received mixed reviews upon its original theatrical release—its sexual politics were labeled offensive at the time—but looking at the film now, where sexual fluidity is more prominent, this story is quaint, and initially rather charming before it becomes troublesome.

    Albert (Perry King) is a handsome young man who is the boy toy of Sills (Peter Donat), a famous conductor. However, five minutes into A Different Story, Sills has replaced Albert with another cute young man, which prompts Albert to squat in an empty house in Los Angeles. Enter Stella (Meg Foster), a realtor who discovers Albert while showing the house. She knows Albert slightly and invites him to come crash at her place for the night. She even assures him that she won’t make a play for him. Albert soon discovers why: Stella is a lesbian.

    The film, directed by Paul Aaron (his debut) and written by Henry Olek (also his debut), thinks it is being clever by having Stella be the breadwinner and Albert being the homemaker. (He cooks, he cleans, and he even fixes her sewing machine.) Their domestic arrangement is cozy for a while. He gets upset when her lateness spoils his dinner. He also helps her to impress her parents when they visit.

    But this odd couple soon starts to develop real feelings for each other. Stella spends less and less time with her neurotic ex, Phyllis (Valerie Curtin), while Albert seems uninterested in relationships with men. Their codependence comes to a head when Stella learns that he is an “illegal alien.” Albert, who is Belgian, was smuggled into America, and is being sought for deportation. So, Stella impulsively weds him to protect him. But this marriage of convenience soon blossoms into true love as a post-birthday celebration turns from a tender moment to a silly one to an intimate one where the couple have sex. And, of course, Stella gets pregnant as a result.

    A Different Story may have irked the LGBT community back in the day with its presentation of two queer people as stereotypes—he is feminine/she is butch—who soon become a heterosexual family unit. And the film does its characters no favors as it leans into the social conformity. Albert eventually gets a job in fashion and Stella gives up her career to be with the baby. She also becomes jealous when she suspects Albert is having an affair with his boss Ned (Guerin Barry). [The truth of what is really happening is actually much more painful for her.] These moments strain viewers’ goodwill and the film. The performances are so strong, which make viewers care about the characters and their situation, but that is why the plot developments are so disappointing.

    King may be a bit flamboyant as Albert, playing up the gay stereotype when the script demands it, but his feelings for Stella are genuine, and he can be moving, especially when he tries to win Stella back after a fight. Moreover, the camera ogles the sexy King in his tight clothes, shirtless, and in cut-off shorts.

    As Stella, Meg Foster is even better. She makes her character ingratiating even during an uncomfortable exchange with a distressed Phyllis. Foster also makes Stella’s maturation (via motherhood) credible, even if her character’s sexual transformation is questionable. Alas, her thoughts about having a baby are largely whimsical, and the film could have benefited from a scene of her expressing something about wanting children.

    But the sexual and gender politics in the film seem to be jerry-rigged for laughs. Yes, it is corny when Stella tries to carry Albert over the threshold after they get married, or when a door-to-door salesmen is directed to Albert about domestic matters. But there is a serious point made when Stella drops Phyllis, a teacher, off a few blocks from her school so the students don’t suspect she’s a lesbian. (Phyllis may be overwrought about being outed, but given the climate back in 1978, her concerns were not unjustified.) Stella blows a playful kiss, which upsets Phyllis, but may prompt viewers to smile.

    A Different Story wants to amuse, but it may provoke more irritation as the characters lose their edges along with their homosexuality. The film’s turning point has Stella and Albert buying a motorcycle with a sidecar, a symbol of their offbeat pairing. Things go downhill from there for both the couple and the film. (Stella is less likeable in the traditional married woman role.) The film’s irritating soundtrack, full of jaunty 70s songs, also doesn’t help matters.

    Still, this film is a curiosity piece. The Blu-ray offers the R-rated version, which features some foul language and brief nudity. (Some versions of the film were rated PG.) This reissue should prompt some folks to discover A Different Story—or (re)consider it in a different light.

    © 2020 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on August 27, 2020