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Radical feminist message lost in ‘Misandrists’

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Kita Updike appears in “The Misandrists,” a feminist assault on patriarchy. (Courtesy Cartilage Films)

A comic romp about a revolutionary feminist group bent on bringing the patriarchy down, Bruce LaBruce’s “The Misandrists” (opening Friday at the Opera Plaza) merits attention as a rare example of truly bold and transgressive popcorn entertainment. It might have been a superior film, however, if LaBruce’s fondness for shock hadn’t undermined its worthy social commentary.

LaBruce, a creative force in the 1980s-founded queercore movement, combines explicit and button-pushing material with conventional storytelling in his movies. He has described “The Misandrists,” which suggests “The Beguiled” presented through the lens of an extreme cousin of John Waters, as a “loose sequel of sorts” to “The Raspberry Reich,” in which he embraced sexual liberation while criticizing aspects of radical leftism.

Set in 1999 “Ger(wo)many” at a country estate, the comedy centers on a band of lesbian revolutionaries whose leader, Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse), oversees four teachers and eight formerly male-oppressed students. The young women receive lessons in “herstory” and parthenogenesis (Google it) and are encouraged to engage in lots of lesbian lovemaking as they prepare to carry out a plan to create a female world order.

The project includes the making of a lesbian porn film, designed to recruit women to the cause.

No men are allowed at the complex, but a student named Isolde (Kita Updike) breaks that rule when she, aided by her comrade Hilde (Olivia Kundisch), hide a wounded on-the-lam male “fellow dissident” (Til Schindler) in the basement.

This and other secrets harbored by members of the group put the women’s mission at risk.

With its graphically presented subject matter, which includes orgies and castration, the film makes the average big-studio “R-rated comedy” look like Candy Land. Merit can exist in that, in an atmosphere in which LGBT stories and indie cinema have become safe and respectable at the expense of containing anything nervy or original.

LaBruce additionally includes cute wordplay and a stellar pillow fight filmed in expressive red and filled with female sexuality and camaraderie.

Particularly notable is his condemnation of the exclusionary belief, held by some radical feminists (represented by Big Mother), that anatomy determines a person’s gender identity and that those who identify as female but don’t have a vagina (such as a trans character in the story) shouldn’t be considered women.

Unfortunately, however, LaBruce often seems more interested in shocking than in presenting the serious material incisively. His over-the-edge depiction of Big Mama’s extreme means of operation undermines credibility and cheapens the movie’s impact.

The blend of comedy, horror and social statement, while sometimes exciting, is too often a muddy mix.

The cast consists of alternative and mainstream talent, sometimes sporting campy makeup. The standout is relative newcomer Updike, who, playing Isolde, gives the film some affecting underlying humanity.

The Misandrists
Two and a half stars
Starring: Susanne Sachsse, Kita Updike, Olivia Kundisch, Viva Ruiz
Written and directed by: Bruce LaBruce
Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

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