Alex Sichel’s ‘All Over Me’ (1997)


The Sichel Sisters’ modest 1997 debut is an exceptional, affecting coming-of-age story that deserves and rewards multiple viewings. Claude and Ellen are 15-year-old best friends growing up in Hell’s Kitchen. They are nearly inseparable though physical and temperamental opposites. As summer begins, Ellen takes up with a controlling, volatile drug dealer named Mark, and Claude befriends a gay musician who sees that Claude’s love for Ellen is more than just platonic.

I hesitate to call All Over Me a lesbian movie, though it is definitely lesbian-themed. The Sichels address emerging sexuality: in Ellen’s case she is straight while Claude happens to be gay. Both Claude and Ellen’s developing sexual feelings become entangled with their close relationship. Ellen recognizes that she isn’t gay but returns Claude’s physical affections both because she craves them in her emotional fragility and uses them to maintain control over Claude. When Ellen pulls away from Claude through her relationship with Mark, Claude breaks out of the caretaker role she plays with both her mother and Ellen and goes to a gay bar. Though she hugs the wall when she first arrives, she quickly begins to flirt with Lucy. Claude isn’t so much coming out as she is finally trying to connect with someone besides Ellen. Claude does freak out when she goes home with Lucy, but her reaction is caused not by Lucy kissing her but by confronting the realization that no matter what she does Ellen will not love her back and that she may need to let Ellen go.

Both Sylvia Sichel’s writing and Alex’s directing attempt to make the film as real as possible and grounded in the characters’ emotional journeys. Yes, one of the characters is murdered, but the event takes place off-screen and is less important than the ripples it causes in Claude and Ellen’s relationship. Alison Folland and Tara Subkoff’s performances are spot on: intense, earnest, and natural. The score and music also add to the moodiness, utilizing The Patti Smith Group’s “Pissing in a River” particularly well. (The Sichels received a grant from the Princess Grace Foundation to make a film showcasing the riot grrrl movement.)

My one complaint about the film is that it feels just a little too short. The secondary characters, though well-acted, are slightly under-developed. In particular, I would have liked to have seen another scene with Claude and Jesse and had a bit more dialogue between Claude and Lucy. I think I understand what Claude sees in Lucy, mostly that Lucy is comfortable and confident in who she is, but I would have liked for them to talk a little more at the bar to establish Lucy as more than just an accessible lesbian musician, which isn’t exactly a stretch for Leisha Hailey to play.

There are several very simple images in the film that I like in particular. First, the scene between Claude and Ellen in front of the mirror provides a nice visual representation of the distortion in their friendship. Both characters seem unsteady throughout the movie, with Claude on her rollerskates and Ellen wobbling because she is drunk or high or both. I also really enjoy the short scene of Claude and Lucy walking together and sharing an ice cream cone. I like that scene in contrast with the opening scene of the movie in which Claude and Ellen walk together, and Ellen complains that she cannot eat Claude’s candy because she is dieting and then half-teases Claude not to eat the candy like such a pig. The scene with Claude and Lucy suggests an equal footing between the two — Lucy doesn’t criticize Claude for her weight like Ellen and Claude’s mother do. The final scene is perfection. I love how Claude half turns toward Ellen just as the picture cuts to black, leaving the audience to wonder if they will be able to repair their relationship.


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