Go Fish (1994): Rose Troche Seminal Lesbian Comedy

Highly entertaining and always light on its feet, Go Fish, an all-out lesbian date movie, was one of the hottest tickets at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.

Rose Troche makes a stunning directorial debut in this hip lifestyle comedy that conveys the folklore women share when no men are around.

The most refreshing element of “Go Fish” is that it’s not about coming out, nor is it burdened with the stiff and sanctimonious tone of such lesbian films as Claire of the Moon. Challenging stereotypes and demystifying lesbianism, the film portrays gay women who live emotionally satisfying lives without being stigmatized or penalized.

Set in Chicago, the comedy begins with a funny scene in which Kia (T. Wendy McMillan), a black professor, is speculating with her students about who might be lesbian in America. Kia, who is romantically involved with Evy (Migdalia Melendez), and Hispanic divorcee, would like Max (Guinevere Turner), her energetic young roommate to meet someone. She proceeds to set her up with Ely (V.S. Brodie), an ex-student of hers who’s about to end a long-distance relationship.

The centerpiece is a hilarious date between Ely and Max, which their friends dissect afterwards, insisting on getting all the dirt–the before, during, and after. In the film’s strongest–and most political–scene, a woman who committed the “sin” of sleeping with a man, is abducted by militant lesbians and subjected to trial in the manner of the Spanish Inquisition.

Small in scale, but full of insights, Go Fish is charged with a fierce intelligence about how lesbians actually live. The vignette-like narrative chronicles the daily routines of these women, their hopes, anxieties, romances–and sex lives. Troche and co-writer Turner should be commended for their “healthy” treatment of sex in the l990s, without condescending to any of the women.

Troche elicits most natural performances from her mostly nonprofessional actresses, whose mixture of physical presence and self-mockery contributes to the film’s quirky, offbeat mood. As the central couple, Guinevere Turner and V.S. Brodie inhabit rather than play their roles; their self-absorption and zany antics add up to something marvelously inventive.

Troche also brings snap to the editing, particularly in the intercutting of the glances–lusty, duplicitous, suspicious–that the women exchange. She’s greatly assisted by Ann Rossetti’s grungy but stylized black-and-white cinematography.

Go Fish’s characters are so likable and sympathetic that it’s bound to win over viewers who might initially be leery of an all-out lesbian film. This sharply observed, visually audacious comedy may prove to be a breakthrough film for Troche and lesbian cinema in the same way that the l986 sex comedy She’s Gotta Have it was for Spike Lee and African-American directors.