Synopsis: Feisty, beautiful Max (Turner) is an outgoing young woman looking for romance. Tired of hearing her whine about the missing “X” Factor in her life, Max’s roommate sets her up with bashful, older – but homely – Ely (V.S. Brodie). Needless to say, there’s no sign of fireworks! But just as Max begins to think that she is destined to be alone forever, she discovers that some of life’s best surprises came in plain, brown paper packages.
Go Fish 7.0
eyelights: its frank discussion of lesbian and gender politics. T. Wendy McMillan’s performance. the creative mise-en-scêne and inserts. the sexy bits.
eyesores: the amateurish performances. its low budget vibe.
“The girl is out there.”
‘Go Fish’ is an extremely low budget motion picture by Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner that tells of the courtship of Max and Ely, two young lesbian women. Made on fifteen thousand dollars, it garnered many nominations and awards on the festival circuit, including the Sundance Film Festival and GLAAD Media Awards (where it won Best feature).
I first saw the black and white picture some fifteen years ago, after having heard good things about it but having missed it at the local indie cinema. One day, I found a VHS copy of the picture and snapped it right up. I watched it right away, but was somewhat disappointed with it: I hadn’t quite expected this kind of DIY effort; I expected something slicker.
Many years later, with adjusted expectation (and, admittedly, quite a few movies later!), I was in a better position to appreciate it.
And I did.
What I liked most were its artsy quality and the discussions of lesbian and gender politics:
The camera is inspired at times, moving in ways that are all style, for show, and there are artsy inserts between scenes that I thought gave the film a nice quality. Yes, it made ‘Go Fish’ feel like a film school project, and those touches might feel intrusive to some, and maybe pretentious to others, but I liked the creativity that it reflected.
And maybe they meant more. Perhaps there’s some symbolism that I’m missing, perhaps there was meaning in it all (surely shots of a spinning top, hands clasping, cloth being dunked in water, words written on someone’s back, …etc., aren’t just random), but I enjoyed it on a purely visual level. I didn’t make the connections and that was okay.
One series of sequences that I really liked were the pseudo Greek chorus one, which found four of Max and Ely’s friends talking about them. Most of these shots were composed with only their heads in the frame, either at opposing corners, or side by side, in such a way that you either saw all of them the whole time, or the camera only had to pan lightly.
Yes, it’s artsy-fartsy stuff. But I liked it.
As for the politics of the film, while it was heavy-handed in its delivery (they were usually akin to speeches, more so than dialogues), I rather like that the issues of societal and familial expectations and acceptance were brought to the fore. They also discussed whether the words we use for women’s genitals have a significance and should be chosen carefully.
And there’s one scene when Daria, who is the player type, sleeping with a new girl in every other moment, is confronted by a throng of lesbians for having had sex with a man. She argued that she liked women, but just like having sex. Some of them counter-argued that she wasn’t a real lesbian, that it wasn’t okay to sleep with a woman who sleeps with men, …etc.
There was this feeling that she wasn’t legitimate, wasn’t pure, was even filthy. She was being questioned about her motives, was even being persecuted for it. And yet, all that happened was that she wanted sex and she happened to have sex with a man. The performances were terrible, but the interrogation made its point: what does it matter, in the end?
Again, the delivery wasn’t great, but the subjects matter.
Oh, and I really liked the sexy bits. There aren’t tons of them, and there mostly relegated to the finale (and, of all places, the end credits – during which a few different couples make out), but it was super sexy. I especially liked the way Guinevere Turner kissed. Oh, to be a girl, for just a moment. And Troche shot them all in shadows, which was superb.
I read online comments saying that it was unnecessary, even vulgar (and yes, from a commentator who claims to be lesbian; it wasn’t an anti-gay thing), but I figured that the whole film revolves around our protagonists finally getting laid after a long drought – so, surely there should be sex in it, right? Personally, I felt that the whole picture lead to that.
So, yeah, I really enjoyed some aspects of the picture.
Having said this, ‘Go Fish’ is a gritty, imperfect film: The plot is pretty thin and is largely spruced up with the lengthy political discourse, the performances are naturalesque, but are often rather amateurish (with the two leads sometimes stumbling over their lines or doing clunky readings), and it really does look handmade, cobbled together.
But, let’s be honest, you can’t make a Hollywood film with 15 grand. Heck, even Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks‘, by no means a perfect entity, was made on nearly twice that amount – and it had the enviable support of a studio for its post-production. So it’s a little hard to be harsh on ‘Go Fish’, which is also a debut feature for both Troche and Turner.
Keeping these factors in mind, it’s a spectacular little gem, really. And it’s not surprising that both Troche and Turner went on to have successful careers in Hollywood (Turner alone is responsible for writing ‘American Psycho‘, ‘The notorious Bettie Page’ and some episodes of ‘The L Word’ – amongst many other things). ‘Go Fish’ was just the beginning.
An auspicious one.
Date of viewing: March 6, 2016