The movie begins in a classroom, as a group of students and their teacher compose a list of names of famous people who might be lesbians. The names chosen are interesting, including "Peanuts'" Peppermint Patty to Marilyn Quayle. But when one student speaks up and asks, "why are we making this list," the professor states that it's an example of how little written literature there is to describe the history of the lesbian lifestyle, and how she hopes that this can be changed.
Go Fish, the feature-length debut for director Rose Troche, is a low-budget, black-and-white film that aims to be a light-hearted love story of two women who fall for each other. It succeeds, and the charm and slice-of-life honesty of the characters is where this film's "heart" lies. Its small, "homey" feeling gives it warmth and likability, and while the actresses aren't professionals, they project honesty and are sincere about their parts; we don't feel as if they're merely speaking scripted words. Independently-made films of this sort can't compete with the technical razzle-dazzle of Hollywood, but the fact that they are a sincere effort on the part of the filmmakers (who often invest a great part of their own personal wealth into the movie) give them a vitality that simply can't be matched by the assembly-line product that comes from the major studios. The typical movie-going audience has been raised from birth on Hollywood motion pictures, and they can often be shocked and confused by the "feeling" projected by a movie of this sort. This speaks more of Hollywood's control over the audience than it does of any faults in the technical quality of the film itself.
The story is simple: a close-knit group of friends arrange a liaison between Max (played by Guinevere Turner), a pretty and somewhat naive young lady; and Ely (V. S. Brodie, who also was involved in the writing and production), a lonely woman who still pines for her lover, even though she moved away two and a half years ago. The two girls know they're being set up, but they don't mind because they feel an attraction to each other. They'd like to get to know one another better, but they're both shy and unsure of how the other will act--in much the same way that relationships here in real life are started. This charming story is a variation on the classic boy-meets-girl tale that we've seen a thousand times before, with the twist being the fact that it's a girl-meets-girl story. We have a pretty good idea what's going to happen, and the question one keeps asking is "when are they going to have sex?"
The movie does have its share of sexual content, and it's frank and quite lifelike. Unlike the rehearsed eroticism of Hollywood, the sex scenes here seem natural and unforced; the ladies hop into bed because they like having sex. They also fall in love, too, but they know that it's fun as well, and they like having fun. (Since I am not a lesbian, I honestly can't say how accurate a portrayal this is of the feelings women have towards other women, and towards sex. But the audience I sat with in the theater enjoyed it and applauded it; I heard comments from various people that it was an accurate portrayal.)
The movie also makes statements about the lesbian lifestyle and the way our society frowns on it, as well as commenting on the "labels" that women use to describe everything, from their own sexual parts (i.e., a conversation describing a suggestive use of the phrase "honey pot" ) to the way a woman in the gay community can be shunned if she actually dares to sleep with a man. Miss Troche obviously knew that her movie would be seen by many as a looking glass into lesbian life, because it's actually being sent to mainstream theaters that normally wouldn't screen films of this type. (The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which has made a name for itself by sending relatively "controversial" or financially risky movies to mainstream theaters, such as Kenneth Branagh's highly acclaimed films, is handling the distribution of this one. Since the movie was made on a shoestring budget, the company is almost certainly guaranteed to make a profit on it, even if it only attracts its most obvious audience.) This is why the film spends time looking at life as a lesbian; various segments are interspersed within the movie, forcing the audience to take note of the fact that the characters are lesbians, and they're trying to assert themselves in a world that frowns upon them.
It would be easy to emphasize these moments as the approach of the "angry filmmaker lashing out at the world," but Miss Troche doesn't do that. She merely presents these scenes as a way of reminding us that lesbians have their own unique problems, and many questions that are not easily answered about their relationships with the rest of the world (and with each other). We're obviously meant to think about this after the movie is over, and it is something worth considering. But it can also distract from the main purpose of the film, which is simply to tell an entertaining story. I've always had trouble adjusting to sudden, jarring insertions of seemingly unrelated scenes, as well as film-school style symbolism such as we see in the brief shots of a top spinning on a chessboard, or being gripped by a hand. (These scenes are probably intended to represent the unpredictability of the future, and the fact that we never know who we're going to meet in the future. As the movie states: "The girl is out there." ) While this style of filmmaking has its proponents, it tends to limit its appeal to the thinking person's audience that "understands" such filmic styles. (The famous French New Wave films of the late 1950s and early 1960s have this similar limitation.)
But the movie has some very strong moments. One especially pleasing scene occurs as Ely prepares dinner for some guests, while two of her friends make love in the other room. It's an amusing use of symbolism (and the audience laughed heartily), while it also gives us an idea of Ely's feelings: she's becoming impatient, and tired of longing for her past lover. The film's final scene is also noteworthy, as it gives us various shots of women making love while Ely and Max enjoy themselves and spend time together. I suspect these scenes were filmed to get the audience all hot-and-bothered, so that they would go home and make love (or have sex for fun). There's nothing wrong with this, of course; I consider it an amusing joke on the part of the filmmakers.
I wonder if this movie would have been allowed to be distributed by the Goldwyn company if it was not presented as a "statement" on the lesbian lifestyle. Whenever a film like this appears in mainstream theaters, it's expected to represent an entire community and speak in a bold voice: "This is what we are!" Go Fish does do its part to present itself as a lesbian love story, with emphasis on the 'lesbian' part, but I think its best moments come when it simply tells being a love story that just happens to involve two girls. It's worth seeing for this reason alone, but you may consider its additional elements to be the icing on the cake--or a distraction.
Either way, you won't be disappointed when you see Go Fish. Movies like this are often promoted as "the emergence of a startling new talent" and "the beginning of a promising career." I certainly hope this is the case here. It's always good to see fresh, new faces--they're the lifeblood that will keep the cinema going forever.