The acting is amateurish. The black-and-white photography is gawky-arty. The lighting is muddy, the scene changes are jerky, and there are lots of moody shots of a spinning toy top that evoke no mood identifiable by me, a noted mood researcher. But let me finish: None of this cinematic greenness detracts from the raffish pleasures of Go Fish, a jaunty, low-budget tomgirl of a film that’s something new — an honest depiction of lesbian life that isn’t titillating (like the Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon coupling in The Hunger). Plus, it’s actually made by lesbians (unlike John Sayles’ Lianna).
In this girl-meets-girl romance from novice director Rose Troche, Max (novice actor Guinevere Turner, who, with then-girlfriend Troche, also wrote and produced Fish) is a self-described “carefree single lesbo looking for love.” Her housemate, Kia (T. Wendy McMillan), sets her up with Ely (V.S. Brodie), a shy, sad-faced veterinarian’s assistant. While Max and Ely get closer, small events tick by. Ely gets a crew cut (“Cut it like a real dyke!” a friend encourages).
Ely’s housemate, Daria (Anastasia Sharp), has sex with a man and endures a mock trial by a jury of her outraged peers. Kia, a teacher, asks her class to call out the names of lesbians or wannabes in history. “Marilyn Quayle!” one student shouts. “The entire cast of Roseanne!” offers another.
These girlfriends are often pointedly funny and occasionally sharply eloquent. At first Max doubts her date’s charms (what’s up with that haircut?), but eventually she is moved by Ely’s quiet gentleness. Sex, when it finally takes place, is preceded by Max’s helpful clipping of Kia’s fingernails. Troche and Turner are fortunate — lesbianism is swingin’ these days, and it’s a good time to be out — but they’ve got more going for them than subcultural chic. In its way, Go Fish does for lesbian culture what Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It did for black culture back in 1986: opens the doors and invites the entire neighborhood in for some fun.