No Angst, Just A Happy Romance

It's a measure of how starved the lesbian audience is for films that reflect their lives that ""Fried Green Tomatoes'' -- a surprise hit most people regarded as a heartwarming Southern period piece -- became a lesbian cult favorite and even won an award from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). All this for a movie that avoided any overt references to its heroines' sexual orientation for fear of alienating mainstream audiences.

When Rose Troche and her girlfriend Guinevere Turner sat down to brainstorm the lesbian movie they'd like to make, they never considered it might have mainstream appeal. But they knew what they didn't want it to be. It would not be another agonized tract about coming out or, in director Troche's words, a movie in which women ""only have sex under excruciating circumstances.'' It would not be about upper-middle-class lesbians with spike heels (not to mention murder in their hearts, a la ""Basic Instinct''). Says the 30yearold Troche: ""We wanted to make something we'd want to go out and see.'' ""We're writing a happy script,'' Turner kept reminding her partner. ""We want to just for once have a movie that's plain old tra-la-la.''

Go Fish is it. This black-and-white movie, shot in Chicago on a minuscule budget, is a blithe and funkily stylish celebration of community -- a twentysomething girl-meets-girl comedy whose charm is in its matter-of-fact disregard for what a straight audience might think. Turner, the co-writer, stars as Max, given to baggy shorts, baseball caps and writing romantic entries in her journal about meeting the girl of her dreams. Her friends fix her up with Ely (V. S. Brodie), an androgynous, shy veterinary assistant who strikes the hip Max as much too '70s crunchy granola for her taste. The gist of the tale is how these two improbable mates become lovers. But Troche and Turner surround them with a chorus of kibitzing friends that includes Max's roommate Kia, a teacher never at a loss for a pedagogical point; Kia's lover Evy, whose ex-husband outs her to her mother; and Daria, a waitress so promiscuous she even sleeps with a man. The movie's most radical stroke may be casting the homely Brodie as a leading lady -- a rebuke to Hollywood romantic conditioning. Once you adjust to the no-budget, anti-glamour style, Troche's artistry sneaks up on you. True to her mission, she leaves you smiling.

The angst that isn't in ""Go Fish'' occurred in the three-year struggle to get the film made. Using money out of their own pockets and borrowed equipment, and filming mostly on weekends to accommodate their nonpro actors, Troche and Turner ran out of money with only 60 percent of the movie shot. John Pierson, a veteran angel of the independent scene, came through with the necessary funds, but by the time filming resumed Turner and Troche had split up.

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The filmmakers figured that at best the movie would play the gay and lesbian festival circuit. But ""Go Fish'' became a sleeper sensation at the Sundance Film Festival last January and was picked up by the Samuel Goldwyn Co., which knew there was an audience for lesbian films but also felt the comedy had crossover appeal. ""To have it supposedly appealing to a heterosexual audience is fascinating to us,'' says Turner, 26, a Sarah Lawrence graduate. ""It makes us a little nervous because neither of us would want any lesbian to think we made it as some public-service announcement to the heterosexual world or to cash in on lesbian chic.''

Two weeks after Sundance, Troche got a call asking if she'd like to direct a film of ""The Brady Bunch.'' She said no. She'd rather stay independent; she's now developing a movie about the pioneering woman director Dorothy Arzner. ""It's turned into a lesbian period piece, Hollywood in the late '30s.'' Turner has no illusions about a major career playing gay roles, but she speculates about being cast in heterosexual parts. ""People like Tom Hanks and William Hurt got Oscars for playing a sexual orientation that's not their own. I wonder if I'm going to get an Oscar for playing a straight person,'' she jokes. ""Is the press going to ask me, "What was it like to kiss a man?' ''

No Angst, Just A Happy Romance | News