The original If These Walls Could Talk is an HBO film divided into three parts, each with its own cast and time period. The parts are linked by content; each takes place in the same house and each protagonist has an experience with abortion. 2003’s If These Walls Could Talk 2 adopts the same structure but focuses on lesbian couples. The movie sets up each vignette with a year (1961, 1972, and 2000) and a new cast.
For a YouTube link for the full film, click the movie poster:
The 1961 plot features an elderly cohabitating couple, Abby and Edith. They venture out on a date to the theater and are engrossed in The Children’s Hour, but afterwards pretend that it was not in their taste. Upon returning home, Abby checks her birdhouse in the backyard and falls off a ladder. Edith stays in the hospital all night, though she is not allowed to see Abby. A fellow woman in the lobby attempts to comfort her by saying,
“[Never having a husband] is lucky… ’cause you won’t have the heartbreak of losing one.”
Abby passes away, and no one bothers to tell Edith, insisting that any information be given only to family members. Edith phones Abby’s only relative, a nephew, who brings his wife and daughter to the funeral and into the home. In preparation for their visit, Edith removes all photographs of her and Abby and makes it look as though they lived in separate bedrooms. The house is in Abby’s name, so the nephew and his family decide to take the belongings and sell the home, effectively kicking Edith out onto the street.
During all of this, Edith suffers but must maintain composure; to the outside world, Abby was just her “friend.” In one scene, Edith breaks down, crying loudly and clutching Abby’s pajamas in clear agony. She explains to Abby’s nephew and his wife who Abby was, and she remembers more about the one time the nephew came to visit than he did. She explains to the daughter that Abby was a caring, tender person. The anguish and adoration of this “friendship” is reminiscent of Fitz-Greene Halleck’s “On The Death of Joseph Rodman Drake.” When the last shot in this vignette pans out from the site of the ladder accident and into the now empty house that used to be a home, the audience does not know what happens to Edith. Despite another hour in the film, the audience never knows. She disappears, consumed by grief and stripped by a traditional legal system and heteronormative culture of anything she may have been able to cling to for comfort. This poignant message continues to relate to Halleck, whose work dwindled and ceased not long after the death of Drake.
The 1972 plot features the same house, this time occupied by several lesbian college students. They are going through a crisis because despite their devotion to the feminism movement, the student activist group they co-founded at their college is kicking them out. Why? Because the group “support equal rights for men and women,” so naturally, “there’s no room for you [lesbians].” The housemates proceed to get high and go to a lesbian bar, where they make fun of the butch lesbians. One girl from the house, Linda, is attracted to a woman at the bar named Amy.
The housemates reject Amy completely, saying she’s “worse than a man” and complaining that they “won’t be accepted as feminists with [Linda’s] little boyfriend around.” Linda retorts, “Wanna know why you don’t like Amy? It’s because you’re scared of anybody who’s not just like you.” The vignette ends on a note of self-acceptance for both Amy and Linda.
The overall feel of this vignette is very different from the first in that it portrays activism and angst rather than an internalized struggle. Second-wave feminism has taken root and is a loud and proud voice, despite some excluding drawbacks, which the movie points out clearly. The film has a different director for each vignette, which allows the audience to experience the different time periods in addition to merely viewing them. This part of the film brought a voice to the previously silent lesbian.
The 2000 plot features residents Fran (Sharon Stone) and Kal (Ellen DeGeneres), who are a lesbian couple trying to conceive a child through sperm donors. Kal regrets deeply that she cannot impregnate Fran herself, but they are sure that it will be a child resulting from their love. Ordering sperm online to be delivered is an option, but Kal declares, “I’m gonna pick it up. It’s the least I can do.” The agency the couple uses assures their sperm is “the cream of the crop,” and after months of trying, Fran gets pregnant.
The introduction of comedian Ellen into the film helps give a positive message to the film. In one scene, the couple retreats to the park and watches the children play. A mother notices them and asks if they have kids here. Upon hearing that they do not have children, she recommends that they give it a try. They find out Fran is pregnant in the next scene, which allows this part of the film to show acceptance and ability to the previously disenfranchised lesbians.
Overall, each vignette gets more progressive, and the house has all of their stories. It is an archive in and of itself of, representing multiple eras in United States culture. In each part, the house contains strife when visitors come. In 1961, when the nephew shows up, Edith has to pretend she never shared a room with Abby. In 1972, Amy is invited into the home but is pushed out and made fun of for the way she dresses. In 2000, a gay male couple who offer to donate sperm stop by. Fran and Kal insist that they want the donor to have no involvement in the child’s life, but the offering couple does not agree. The house therefore seems to accept its lesbian occupants and provides for them a place to be themselves; however, it rejects interlopers. It does not have enough power in 1961, and its own resident is uprooted. In 1972, it is split, and Linda and Amy wind up at Amy’s house instead. In 2000, though, Fran and Kal reject the gay males within minutes and get their happy ending in the house. Throughout the house’s journey, the viewer gets to experience snapshots of lesbian liberation in the United States.