Last time I watched a lesbian classic for the first time I expressed that I would from then on be a broken person for having watched it. Some people were upset. This was a movie that came out (nice) at a time when queer media wasn’t as accessible as it is now, and seeing a story that looked like theirs at a time when they needed it most be taken to task was hurtful. The truth, though, was that the movie was bad.
It was important I move on to another lesbian classic.
Go Fish is the 1994 film about a group of lady loving ladies just trying to get by in a heteronormative patriarchal society. Written by Guinevere Turner and Rose Troche – names I won’t soon forget – this movie was really the first film made by, for, and starring modern queer women, so I’d imagine there are many of you that have those same strong feelings you had about the last film about this film. Protective ones. Sympathetic ones. Ride or die ones.
And so it is with a heavy heart that I say that this might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.
Our movie begins with a group sitting around talking about lesbians that have existed throughout history, which almost 30 years later is still how a lot of our conversations start. Lily Tomlin. Audre Lorde. Someone suggests the entire cast of Roseanne, and in many ways John Goodman is a lesbian. One woman boldly proclaims Eve, a fictional character from the bible, is a lesbian, and even for the most veteran of “everyone is gay” that’s a reach. “Why are we making this list?” someone asks on screen and it cues a jackpot chime rollout in my brain.
Not only is this movie in black and white, but it’s got the kokopelli meets Keith Haring transitional graphics to usher this thing into peak 90s cafe culture. Also, before I go any further I do feel it’s important for you to know that this movie sounds like it was recorded from across the room in an airplane hanger.
Oh, look, it’s the lady from The L Word who always wore a white blouse tucked into some boot cut pants and who is the writer of this movie, Guinevere Turner! Her character’s name is Max and Max wears a backwards hat.
Max is a writer. We know she’s a writer because it’s all in the syntax. It’s got a rhythm like this. It helps to hear it aloud. Like in narration. The narration plays over a scene of Max writing. That’s also how you know she’s a writer. Max has a roommate. Her name is Kia. Kia’s girlfriend stayed the night.
Suddenly there’s a shot of a woman in a kitchen drinking hot tea out of glass without a handle, so you know something’s off.
We’re back at Kia and Max’s place and Kia reminds her girlfriend, Evy, to call her mom. When Evy gets on the line she begins talking into the phone without remembering to pause for the “person on the other line” and is hilariously trying to driving the story without a single regard for everyday rhythms in conversation. Into the receiver like, “Hello mom yes I hear you and will remember to do that thing as your daughter who knows what’s at stake here.”
Now we’re at the coffee shop with Kia and Max and they’re talking about “sex as in fucking” not sex as in “having slept with.” Wow, these women love keeping it real when it comes to intercourse. Then they start ranking people around them based on attractiveness, which feels rude. Max starts singing the “U-G-L-Y” song about a woman in a booth next to them and this is so problematic that the screen fades to black with no explanation. I wish that’s what happened in real life.
It turns out Kia knows Ely, the woman that Max has just called ugly and the woman from earlier who drinks hot tea out of glass with her bare hands. Ely has a girlfriend in Seattle and is definitely nailing this acting thing.
Later on Max arrives at Ely’s front doorstep to learn that Kia has set them up on a surprise date. Even though all three of them have just had a conversation about Ely’s girlfriend and Max is apparently repulsed by Ely? Thanks, Kia! At Ely’s we’re introduced to Daria, Ely’s roommate, who stands in the doorway and says with the charm and human warmth of a free text to speech language translator, “Hi, Max, looking cute as usual.”
Max and Ely decide to go see a movie even though where a spark between two people should be there’s a giant sigh. When they get back to Ely’s house they have a stilted conversation about how the world rests on queer filmmakers shoulders to represent an entire culture, which feels suspiciously like these filmmakers are asking the audience to forgive them not even 30 minutes into their own movie.
Without explanation and after too long a conversation about tea (honestly what’s the tea thing), Max and Ely start making out on the couch despite zero chemistry and Ely’s monogamous relationship. Also do remember that very recently Max was literally chanting “ugly” in Ely’s general direction. Sure. Why not. Now the camera is just doing a loop-de-do around their crotch areas.
Now Ely’s getting a haircut so she can look edgier and it sounds like MC Skat Kat, the jazzy cartoon cat from Paula Abdul’s music videos, has scored the scene.
Then we’re b-rolling into a scene where Daria has sex with a man. And ah, here it is, the classic “I had sex with a man” lucid dream where all your queer friends question the validity of your lesbianism. A lot of points are being brought up here. Bisexuality. Quality over quantity? Sex as a vehicle for orgasms. Sex not as a vehicle for orgasms? Sex for fun. Lesbians who sleep with men.
This movie feels like someone took acid and filmed their friends on a T-Mobile Sidekick.
Cut to a montage of women in wedding gowns where there’s spoken word narration about heterosexual marriage being echoed by a whisper narration and I sort of want to cry. You know that part of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Willy Wonka takes everyone down that tunnel and the overstimulation of everything is too much? That’s this movie.
Now we’ve got some soundscapes easing us into a scene where Daria is having sex with a woman on a bed, and on that same bed a cat sits so close to their bodies it might even be touching them. Here’s the thing: I 100% know someone’s doing this very thing right now like it’s a nonissue and I want to die.
Ely is making dinner mere feet away in the open floor-planned apartment, and it slowly becomes clear to me that the shots of Daria and her date’s love making and the shots of Ely’s food preparations are meant to parallel each other. Something I did not expect from watching this movie was that bread would be forever ruined for me, but here we are.
The sex keeps going. Then Daria’s date turns her head and looks directly at Ely. The camera turns to Ely and she’s like, “Huh?”
Then there’s a shot of a tea kettle whistling from the kitchen, which is supposed to represent the orgasm happening to a woman who basically has a cat on her chest, but really it should be a shot of someone picking up a phone and hearing a dial tone, because that’s the amount of fervor to this sex.
The next day Ely and Daria decide to throw a party at their place, probably to wipe clean the memory of the night before. Max shows up in her Sunday Best– her backwards hat and jorts. One woman has exactly one bang that cascades down her face. Now they’re playing Never Have I Ever, a game that was unfortunately lost to the sands of time, never to be heard from again.
A spinning top on a checker board keeps transitioning scenes, which makes about as much sense as this entire movie.
Now Max and Ely talk on the phone all the time because they kissed at the party. Chemistry off the charts. Aaaaand now we’re literally experiencing in real time two people’s boring phone conversations that no one on earth finds interesting besides the two parties involved.
Cut to a lesbian scrapbook music montage of Max and Eli getting ready for a date. Then Ely shows up early at Max’s place and Max is still in her robe. As they small talk on the couch Max takes Ely’s hands and says, “Oh, look at your nails,” as if to say, “Oh, look at your NAILS.”
Ely registers this about 30 seconds later and calls into the bathroom where Max has just returned to, “Hey, do you have any clippers?” In this first date scenario I think it would have been perfectly fine for Max to call back, “Sure, just one second!” and then quietly exit through the bathroom window, but instead Max brings Ely a set of clippers knowing full well what’s about to happen.
As Ely cut her nails on Max’s couch, I feel a sense of loss. Of what is unclear. What is clear is that Ely hasn’t set up a game plan for the clipping situation, not a receptacle or tissue in sight, and so nails are going every which way. Max returns to the couch in her robe and begins cutting Ely’s nails for her.
Then, naturally, they start to make out. The nail clipping inspired makeout turns into sex on the same couch where pieces of Ely’s nails surely coat the surface and I think, “There are all kinds of people in this world, aren’t there?”
Alright, it’s the next morning and Ely is doing the happy sex dance down the street on the way back to her place! Good for her!
Max stays snuggled up on her nail couch while she relives the dream that was the night before as Kia and Evy listen on, which means we also get to relive it in flashbacks. Please end this movie. Help me. What have I done to either of you, Guinevere Turner and Rose Troche?
Okay, the movie ends, and honestly I don’t even care that it ended in the middle of a conversation. As the credits roll there are gratuitous shots of women having sex, and I’m assuming this is supposed to be a reward for having made it through the movie.
Because there is nothing good about this movie. The acting. The dialogue. The airplane hanger audio. The camera work. The words “nookie” and “ho” were used. Typically in movies, there’s also conflict and a plot. The entire experience feels like when someone’s telling you a story but realize pretty quickly into that it’s bad and just keep going anyway.
When I finished this movie I felt a deep, still sadness. It grew from a small sadness tumbleweed that picked up everything in its path as it took a wild ride down a hill and turned into a heavy mound, taking one last rotation before finding its final resting place on level ground.
Have I ever made a movie, you’re asking yourself? No, I haven’t, and so maybe this isn’t fair. But I have had terrible ideas, like a remake of Hope Floats but as a 10 second short of a girl face down in the water, and I’ve chosen not to release them into the world in a public way, until now, where I’ve done it quietly at the bottom of a post everyone has surely stopped reading.
Goodnight and may god have mercy on our souls.
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