Netflix fix: 'Dear Lemon Lima' an exceptional study in unexceptional women

March 13, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated March 12, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.

Vanessa and her tribe of friends in  "Dear Lemon Lima."

Vanessa and her tribe of friends in "Dear Lemon Lima."

The trope of the exceptional woman is a bothersome one. It revolves around the unexplainable characterization of a female character who is, for unexplained reasons, the best at what she does but is still the only female character in the story that is being told.

We see it in books, movies and TV all the time. Other writers smarter than I have pointed to Princess Leia from "Star Wars," Eowyn from "The Lord of the Rings" and even Buffy from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as examples of exceptional women.

It is as if writers and directors think they are doing some service to women by casting one super awesome chick who is awesome for no other reason than by existing, therefore excusing any other depictions of women in popular culture.

Enter "Dear Lemon Lima," a quirky love letter chock full of young women who aren't afraid of being who they are, exceptional and otherwise. Suzi Yoonessi's film debut (PG-13, 1 hour, 27 minutes) follows Vanessa, a young half-Eskimo girl living in Fairbanks, Alaska, as she tries to win back her arrogant ex-boyfriend, Philip, when she enrolls in his private school.

Vanessa, however, can only afford the school because of her ethnic heritage even though she considers herself "more white" and has never met her Eskimo father.

Struggling to accept herself, fit in and win back her ex, Vanessa finds friendship in a group of misfits other students have labeled as FUBARs (Effed Up Beyond All Repair) as they try to win a school-wide Olympic Eskimo competition.

The movie puts to use great allegorical techniques, perhaps most interestingly, irony - the most obvious is our setting. Nary a snowflake or ice-capped mountain can be seen in the entire movie. The "Snowstorm Survivor" Olympic Eskimo competition? As sunny as a March day in any of the lower 50. No, the only thing remotely frozen is, hilariously, the ice cream truck that Vanessa works at - where she sells, of course, Eskimo Pies.

Our director also makes some very obvious jabs at faux-cultural appreciation culture throughout the movie, perhaps driving the point home that no, all us ethnic folks aren't necessarily running around with our culture on our sleeve.

The Eskimo culture, though, is important to this movie. Great parallels are made throughout, especially when concerning the FUBARs. The group of mostly young girls, save for the ironically scrawny Hercules, are their own tribe within the movie. They reflect the culture of their land's past through their hardships, experiences within the competition and even when one FUBAR leaves the world too soon.

In a very interesting and fun way, Vanessa's ex-boyfriend almost is an exceptional male figure in the movie. Aside from Hercules and Hercules' father, who are both mostly ancillary, he has the only speaking male part. He's good looking, crazy good at Spanish for no reason and even though he's quite foul, seems to have the entire school, teachers included, at his fingertips.

Vanessa's obsession for Philip, however exceptional he is, fades, and the movie turns out to be a Tour de Force battle cry for not only being an empowered young woman but helping other women as well. Even the stereotypical mean girl who would steal away Philip from Vanessa breaks the mold.

The girls are told, "when someone from our tribe wins, we all win," and by the end, you get a sense the movie is a win, not just for exceptional women, but for all women.



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