‘Ahead of the Curve’ Review: The Business of Lesbian Identity

A 30-year-old lesbian magazine faces an existential crisis in this documentary.


By Teo Bugbee

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In the curiously commercial documentary “Ahead of the Curve,” the lesbian magazine formerly known as Deneuve receives a second shot at the cultural spotlight.

Known now by the publication name Curve, the magazine was founded by a lesbian named Franco Stevens in 1990, in the midst of the culture wars. The magazine grew alongside public acknowledgment of lesbian life, and its covers featured newly out stars like the singer Melissa Etheridge or the comedian Margaret Cho. The documentary begins in the present day, as both the glossy and its founder are facing existential crisis.

In vérité footage, Stevens is told by Curve’s new owner that the publication might not last another year. The film’s director, Jen Rainin, who is also married to Stevens, uses archival footage of her wife in the ’90s to reflect on Stevens’s history with the magazine and what Curve meant to its larger lesbian readership. In the movie’s contemporary footage, Stevens embarks on a tour of conference halls and community centers, asking young people what lesbian visibility has meant to their lives.

There is a tension in the film between the lesbian experience and lesbianism as a consumer product. Stevens connects with young advocates and business leaders over the hopes, fears and traumas that resonate across generations. From a perspective of a business in the process of rebranding, Stevens’s foray into this world of lesbian and queer-centered spaces has focus-tested value. But it is hindered as a documentary by the spotlight on marketing, which boxes conversations about lesbian identity into sterile conference rooms where participants in name tags and lanyards share heartfelt stories for the purpose of a product. The film’s subjects are overwhelmingly earnest, but the movie suffers for its substitution of enterprise over entertainment.

Ahead of the Curve
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.

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