Liz (played by supermodel Patricia Velasquez) is vivacious, womanising, party girl, who heads off for her annual trip to an idyllic Caribbean island, where she celebrates her birthday with her friends. However, she is hiding something from the others, as she is terminally ill. She doesn’t want their pity and just hopes to enjoy herself, even though her condition is getting worse by the day.
An outsider, Eva (Eloisa Maturén), arrives in their secluded retreat after her car breaks down. Straight women are an unusual presence at the guesthouse, and the women there aren’t initially sure they want one around, as this is supposed to be their opportunity to bond solely with other lesbians. However, they soon decide to accept Eva, while simultaneously daring Liz to seduce her. Liz soon discovers that Eva isn’t her usual conquest, and coming into contact with the emotionally wounded young woman causes both of them to reconsider their relationship with life, death and love.
Liz In September is based on Jane Chambers’ successful 1980 play, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, which is considered by many to be a seminal piece of lesbian theatre, as it was one of the first successful, mainstream literary plays that centred around lesbian characters. While the play was written by an American, the film is a Venezuelan production (billed as the country’s first lesbian-themed film), with Spanish dialogue and filmed in the Caribbean, so it’s certainly a bit of an international affair.
There’s a charm to Liz In September, with director Fina Torres wisely developing the feeling of camaraderie and family between the women (and at times they act very much like siblings), which helps temper the fact that other aspects of the play could very easily slip into major melodrama. It doesn’t always succeed in steering away from that, and there are moments when it tilts too hard into pulp romance novel territory. Even the location sometimes works against it, as while the Caribbean shore undoubtedly helps the movie look gorgeous, it also has a tendency to make things feel like a fantasy.
Thankfully though it has a very strong central performance from Patricia Velasquez, who confidently handles the mix of being a self-assured, lively woman who has a reputation for bedding an endless string of women, with the fact she is having to face the fact she is dying. Without her the whole thing might have been a little too maudlin and theatrical, but Velasquez brings things down to earth and helps keep them there.
Oddly, the thing that is ultimately most memorable isn’t Eva’s emotional trauma or Liz’s terminal illness, it’s the relationships between the friends. These connections are smartly drawn, displaying the history, emotions and lives of a group of very different women, who outsiders may say only want to be around one another because they share a sexuality, but which is shown here to be something more
Overall Verdict: While Liz In September often feels close to careening off a cliff of melodrama, a strong performance from Patricia Velasquez and a strong sense of what brings the women together ensure it’s very watchable.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac