On the Antiquated Views of Sexuality in Love Potion No. 9

Although Love Potion No. 9 came out in 1992, a time in the twentieth century that had at least somewhat established that there were other options in life besides heterosexuality (barring the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy Bill Clinton inexplicably felt like enforcing in order to placate Republicans early on in his first term), the narrative of the film indicates a complete disregard for the existence of homosexuality or anything related to a non-male and female relationship.

Promo poster for Love Potion No. 9
Promo poster for Love Potion No. 9
Centered around two intelligent (read: nerdy) biochemists named Diana Farrow (Sandra Bullock) and Paul Matthews (Tate Donovan) who both have a consistent drought in their love lives, Dale Laurer (who wrote, produced and directed the film, and, side note: also wrote and produced My Cousin Vinny, which would come out the same year), is extremely deliberate in laying forth the hetero stipulations of Love Potion No. 8 (Love Potion No. 9 comes in later). This potion is introduced at the very beginning of the film when Paul and his friends go to see a fortune teller named Madame Ruth (Anne Bancroft, the best part about the movie). Immediately detecting how lonely Paul is, Madame Ruth prescribes him Love Potion No. 8, which she specifically states, in its undiluted form, will make any woman who hears his voice fall in love with him, but any man who hears it be repelled by him. Yet wouldn’t this be a bit limiting if, say, Paul was into dudes (which it kind of seems like he is)?
Two nerds who strike gold with Love Potion No. 8
Two nerds who strike gold with Love Potion No. 8
The same goes for a woman who takes the potion: she attracts only men and, as we see in the third act of the film, makes other women want to hiss at her and shout obscenities about her promiscuity. This cut-and-dried approach to sexuality seems not only telling of the era, comprised of a generation still reeling from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, but of Hollywood’s consistent inability to deal with anything outside the norm of social conventions.
Diane can only attract men, which would suck if she was a lesbian?
Diane can only attract men, which would suck if she was a lesbian?
Considering how big of a flop Love Potion No. 9 was at the box office (grossing a mere $754,935), it leaves one to wonder if maybe the bland nature of the project with regard to the exploration of different sexualities might have been part of the cause of its failure. Taking into account the lesbianic tendencies of movies like Poison Ivy and Single White Female, both also released in 1992, the examination of romantic dissatisfaction in Cameron Crowe’s Singles and the transgender masterpiece that is The Crying Game–again, both released in 1992–it would seem, Love Potion No. 9 was clinging desperately, like so many other big budget films of the decade, to the cliche of heterosexuality as though each studio’s life depended on it.