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‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is the Lesbian Classic of a Lifetime

Rose Glass directs contemporary Thelma and Louise cranked up to a thousand in her new A24 film, Love Lies Bleeding starring Kristen Stewart.

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian sitting on a pickup truck
Credit: Ben Fordesman

Since the 1980s, unconventional crime thrillers have defined the fringes of cinema. Rose Glass, director of A24 Catholic thriller Saint Maud (2019), is back with her sophomore film, Love Lies Bleeding (2024).

Love Lies Bleeding, starring Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian does exactly what its thriller predecessors set out to do and more. Using the styles and tactics of familiar lovers-in-a-road-movie thrillers like Natural Born Killers, Villains, True Romance, Bones and All, and Buffalo ’66, Glass creates the contemporary Thelma and Louise cranked up to a thousand.

What is so important about the film is that it primarily includes a lesbian relationship as a critical part of the story, but the two are treated like regular characters in a thriller. The magic of Love Lies Bleeding is that these women are not a sideshow attraction, but instead are two people living their lives.

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian are forever immortalized on screen as sapphic lovers caught up in the grit of a crime thriller, but maybe with a happier end than Thelma and Louise got.

Cool! So, What’s Love Lies Bleeding About?

Set in the 1980s, Love Lies Bleeding follows Lou (Kristen Stewart), the manager of a high impact gym. One day, Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a runaway bodybuilder, tumbles into Lou’s gym while on her way to a bodybuilding contest in Los Vegas. Jackie immediately moves in with Lou U-Haul style* the day after meeting her. Caring Lou helps her train for the contest. Exuberant Jackie helps Lou come out of her shell and quit smoking. At least for a little while.

Everything seems perfect. Until Lou’s abusive brother-in-law, JJ (Dave Franco), dies under mysterious circumstances… Lou is launched frustratingly back into her unwanted life of crime with Jackie right by her side. With the quirky brilliance of many A24 films and the detail and grit of a 90s crime thriller, Love Lies Bleeding doesn’t miss a beat.

Revenge, cats, oiled up bodies insane bug collecting villains and nicotine-stains fill every epic moment. Really, the only complaint I have about the movie itself is that Kristen Stewart’s acting performance is just… Kristen Stewart being the Kristen Stewart we all love so much. Did fans really expect anything different?

Lou (Stewart) and Jackie (O'Brian) at the Gym in Love Lies Bleeding
Lou (Stewart) and Jackie (O’Brian) at the Gym in Love Lies Bleeding / Credit: Ben Fordesman.

*U-Hauling refers to how hilariously quickly lesbians have been known to move in with one another.

Yeah, Sure, But… What Makes it Different From Any Other Gay Girl Flick?

Go ahead. Describe any lesbian film you have ever seen. Think about it real quick.

Okay, you probably came up with one of three descriptions:

1) A heartbreaking drama set in the 1870s or the 1950s about loss and longing. It has a sad ending. Everybody is repressed. It’s about yearning. Or going away to the sea to recover from tuberculosis. Maybe it’s about someone’s abusive husband that doesn’t realize she’s gay. Or maybe it’s a predatory relationship. One woman is quiet and stares wide-eyed at an elegant woman that is much more confident. There are corsets and there’s probably some kind of object as a metaphor for female anatomy. One of the two women’s blonde.

2) The one in French. No, the other one.

3) Something with Natasha Lyonne in it (she is not gay, though?).

Lesbian cinema falls into the same traps all the time. Love Lies Bleeding does not necessarily fall into them. Many of the classic troupes are there, sure. The U-Hauling, Lou’s goofy orange cat, having niche weird interests.

And, of course, the popular motif of women (especially gay women) that are too big or considered to be “monstrous.” That image is literally and metaphorically at the core of Love Lies Bleeding, but I can’t say too much more about that until you see the film. Just see the title of the article to satiate yourself until the film hits streaming.

Lou (Stewart) Smokes a Cigarette
Lou (Stewart) Smokes a Cig / Credit: Ben Fordesman.

I’ll Bite… But Isn’t Stuff Like This Kinda Overdone?

NO!

Another thing that is so profound about the film is that Lou and Jackie are not necessary palatable people. It is a huge achievement in lesbian (or general WLW/women-love-women) film studies that both characters are not super feminine.

For so long, lesbian films featured almost exclusively pretty feminine lesbians. Not Love Lies Bleeding! Jackie and Lou are both actually at least a little bit butch. Again, they are merely people, not stereotypes. The pair are very believably written characters. Even though they are, well, both beautifully gross.

Love Lies Bleeding also explores the crazy fast intimacy between two women forced into an extraordinary situation together. But in all of this, the thing that is the most compelling about this film is that it does not dwell on troupes or crass stereotypes. Instead, it relies on common troupes from detective films and crime thrillers. It is truly a genre film more than it is a lesbian film.

The same story could happen to a pair of straight people. But it doesn’t. Above all else, Lou and Jackie are people in a crummy situation. The film takes time to develop these women, two fairly butch women, and their environments which makes them feel fully lived in and realized.

Like how Lou’s apartment has every detail perfectly laid out for an audience to believe she lives there. Love Lies Bleeding is probably the second most carefully detailed film I have ever seen (after Bones and All, that is). Each prop and costume piece is a vehicle for telling the story. Not only are there classic vintage items like Lou’s old lesbian erotica collection and Jackie’s gym gear, but kitschy junk like Lou’s cat’s bowl that is delicately emblazoned with Happy Meal on the front. Jackie and Lou also both struggle with their addictive personalities. The detail that goes into describing the world of the substances (and people) that try to devour them is also brilliant.

Jackie (O'Brian) Flexing
Jackie (O’Brian) Flexing / Credit: Ben Fordesman.

In the film, Jackie becomes extremely reliant on steroids during her bodybuilding journey (because of Lou…). As a result, parts of her body begin to grow more and more grotesque. Not just with the normal bulging muscles and whatever one would expect. Specifically, the film goes into extreme detail to visually show how Jackie’s body is bruised and deteriorating where she is injecting herself with the chemical.

Similarly, the film shows constantly how much Lou smokes. Love Lies Bleeding is so impressive because it is a film you can almost smell. The odors of every ashtray, egg-white omelette and sweat rag practically permeate the screen.

Okay, Fine. It Sounds, Like, Really Good.

Lou (Stewart) and Jackie (O'Brian) on a Tennis Court
Lou (Stewart) and Jackie (O’Brian) on a Tennis Court / Credit: Ben Fordesman.

Love Lies Bleeding is the movie of a lifetime in its genre. Not only is it a successful lesbian film, it is a successful thriller. It is a successful film regardless of what boxes it checks. A24 has a hot ticket on their hands with this one. The best one can hope for is that a film like Love Lies Bleeding can not just break the mold on lesbian filmmaking, but throw out the broken pieces too. Less repeated unoriginal ideas re: Blue is the Warmest Color, more of whatever director Rose Glass is having. Finally, audiences have something real.

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twenty-three year old lover of film, books and rock n roll

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