THE FOX WAS THE FIRST lesbian film Canadian screenwriter Peggy Thompson ever saw. Released in 1968, this story of a lesbian couple had the obligatory death; one woman dies when a tree falls on her (between her legs, no less); the other runs off with the man who "accidentally" chopped the tree down. Some 30 years later, Thompson wrote her own idea of what a lesbian film could be, and took the script to fellow Canadian director Anne Wheeler. Two years and innumerable rewrites later, Better Than Chocolate made its debut on the film-fest circuit (including this year's Seattle International Film Festival), and is now opening theatrically.

Wheeler had never directed a lesbian film before, but was attracted to Chocolate because it was a comedy. "I felt there's no way better than humor to get to a broader audience," she says. At the Berlin Film Festival, Wheeler says, "The first audience was really hardcore lesbian. The second audience was like they had invited their friends and neighbors. By the fourth screening, it was half straight, and starting to cross over. Which is exactly what we wanted. Because we know the film has a home audience and always will. But I think it'll hit a broader audience who will come to know this community as not being in any way threatening."

Chocolate is the story of how twentysomething Maggie (Karyn Dwyer), who's out to her friends, leaps that final hurdle and comes out to her mom, Lila (Wendy Crewson). The situation is further complicated when Maggie lands a new girlfriend, Kim (Christina Cox), right before newly divorced Lila and Maggie's brother Paul (Kevin Mundy) unexpectedly arrive to move in. Needless to say, everyone's consciousness is raised, through honest communication, and a handy box of sex toys (though Wheeler says Chocolate is "very accessible," she concedes, "except for the butt plug scene; that's the one that everybody reacts to!").

More importantly, Wheeler hopes Chocolate avoids the pitfalls of other lesbian films. "I don't think movies have reflected the gay lifestyle very accurately," she says. "They try to say, 'This is what our problem is, and this is how hard it is,' rather than just saying, 'Hey, this is who we are, and these are the kind of situations that we get into,' without all this weight of guilt upon their shoulders."