In Don Roos’ The Opposite of Sex, two narrators fight to tell two different stories in the course of one narrative. The first narrator is sixteen-year-old Dedee—a girl with enough cynicism to taint the entire film and enough mischief to keep the action going indefinitely. The second narrator is the camera—a less zealous narrator perhaps, but a far more reliable one. Through a playful mix of narration between the two, a story of evolution and change seeps through the film to show that maybe a little bit of sex—and all the good and bad that comes with it—is actually worth chasing after.
These two narrators each display very distinct styles. Dedee brashly manipulates the story, giving her own opinions on the lives of others and toying with the audience’s perception both visually and through dialogue. The camera as a narrator allows the characters’ actions and surroundings to influence the audience’s perception of events and pass judgment on their actions. The camera waits like a silent sentry for time to prove its points—therefore negating Dedee’s convictions. Each narrator vies for dominance throughout the movie, flexing their oratory muscles.
Dedee has a tendency towards the dramatic, especially when narrating. In her view, everyone is just a little bit dumb or naive, and she let’s the audience know it. A great example of this is when she tells about Lucia’s past. In a flashback starting with a grainy shot on a handheld, Dedee says “Tom turned out cute, didn’t he? They all do.” The camera then cuts to Lucia in a close up that is no longer in the style of a home movie (Image 1). “She didn’t.” The camera cuts to Lucia sitting alone at a table (Image 2). “I know in movies you kind of feel sorry for girls like this. But in real life, you wouldn’t be sitting next to her either.” Dedee clearly feels that Lucia is beneath her because she is too unattractive to garner the attention of anyone—including her family members.
Besides her dramatic flair, Dedee often proves unreliable as a narrator. Towards the end of the movie, after she confesses to her brother during labor, saying that she has regrets about her actions and wants him to know that “It was really fucking low” what she did, Dedee dies of internal hemorrhaging from the trauma of giving birth. Dedee then continues her narration as Hubert Taczanowski cuts and pans between different characters, saying, “Look at them. Who’d have thought they gave a shit?” Then the screen goes black and Dedee says, “But you were wrong. I’m screwing with you right now. No way I died,” and she thrust the audience back into her world.
Dedee’s propensity for close-ups adds flair to her narrative style throughout the movie. For example, Image 1 clearly shows Lucia, the subject of Dedee’s comments. Image 3 shows the shock on Bill’s face as Dedee and Matt tell Bill and Lucia that they are in love and Dedee is pregnant. Image 4 shows a medium close-up from her wrap-up story of how everyone’s lives went on. The close-ups of people create a strong visual aid emphasizing her opinions. Dedee closely controls what the audience sees in these sections by limiting vision.
In contrast, the camera’s narration looks much more broadly on the characters and their lives. The director of photography, Hubert Taczanowski, accomplished this dramatic change by literally focusing on characters in a more wholistic way—by shooting the characters and their surroundings in medium and medium long shots. For example, right after Dedee narrates Lucia’s seemingly sad, relatively passive existence in primarily close-up shots, it is the camera’s turn to narrate. The camera smoothly takes over the narration with a medium long shot as it tracks Lucia pushing her cart down the grocery store aisle (Image 5). The camera gives the characters room to grow and make their own choices—unlike Dedee who often restricts the character’s choices by voicing what she predicts will happen.
The most notable transfer of control between Dedee and the camera is when the screen is split into two, showing the tiny controlled view of Dedee, and that of the expanding world of Lucia (Image 6). This split screen shows how the two women have grown over the summer, both as people and in their relationships with people. As Dedee is giving birth, she asks the audience “Excuse me, but haven’t we seen this scene like a million times before?” before saying, “I gotta give you something else to watch. You feel free to go back and forth.” The editor, David Codron, then takes Dedee out of the picture with a quick slide to the right, allowing the camera to be the sole narrator for awhile.
The back and forth narration of the film takes on more significance during the end of the movie. In the last scene, the audience hears Dedee’s first person narration, but sees the world from the camera’s point of view in the form of a montage of scenes. The camera’s narration provides intimate glimpses into characters’ lives, showing Dedee what she is missing through her cynical views. This variety of silent scenes convey the camera’s point by capturing the range of emotions that people’s relationships elicit. Shots of people hugging, kissing, cuddling, smiling and taking care of each other, or simply just being there for each other, fade in and out as hopeful music plays. A dolly shot ends the montage with Dedee and Randy kissing and Dedee looking truly happy for the first time. This shot doesn’t have the cynical twist that marks Dedee’s point of view, but rather captures a simple moment that binds people together. Atypically, this particular shot represents Dedee’s memory, but the camera’s point of view.
After this montage, Dedee suddenly sees things from the side of the camera when she says,
“Okay, so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not all shit. Maybe… God damn it, I thought the whole idea was I know what happens next. I’ll tell you one thing… I’m not going to go back to Bill’s house and be this big changed person for you. I told you right off I don’t grow a heart of gold. And if I do, which is, like, so unlikely… give me a break and don’t make me do it in front of you. Come on guys, go okay?”The Opposite of Sex
Then she breaks the fourth wall as she yells, “Go!” and the film ends (Image 7).
Roos’ choice to end the movie in this way perfectly sums up the back and forth narrative in the film. It also leaves the audience with a clear winner. Dedee’s break in the fourth wall isn’t just addressed to the audience, it’s addressed to the camera itself. She speaks directly to the camera as a way of admitting her defeat; the camera succeeds in changing Dedee’s heart. The cinematography combined with the interweaving narration allows the audience to observe the evolution in Dedee’s opinions. Because of the way the film is shot, the audience becomes omniscient, seeing Dedee’s faults and rooting for her personal growth. This creative form of narration in The Opposite of Sex not only influences the audiences’ perceptions, but Dedee’s opinions and the outcome of the narrative itself. This cinematographic technique allows her to grow a conscience and move from a flat character into a full, round character. Because of the duality of the narration, the audience leaves with the knowledge that even the most cynical can grow a heart.