I know, I know. The easiest and most PC thing to do here is to label Rose Troche's lesbian love story Go Fish a delightful crossover film that will appeal to gay and straight audiences alike and be done with it. The film is, after all, sassy and salty and smart in a lot of places. And this is no slick, exploitative Hollywood version of lesbian life (did somebody say three of hearts?) where the main characters are drop-dead gorgeous actress/model types posing as dykes, one of whom eventually opts for heterosexuality. The film is no sellout. That lesbianism is hot (just ask Howard Stern), that the film wears its big heart on its sleeve, and that it earned the vaunted accolade of being "the talk of Sundance," should only make it easier for me to endorse the damn thing.
But I can't. Go Fish struck me as a fresh and sporadically funny feature made by a talented filmmaker that, regrettably, too often bogs down in puddles of lesbian dogma, unpolished performances, and self-consciously artsy directorial flourishes (repeated cutaways to a flashing light, a spinning top, writing on bodies, a black kid playing in a pile of leaves). When the movie drops its political guard and focuses on the slowly developing love story between its two quirky principals, it transcends sexual orientation in its appeal. The searches for love, sex, and acceptance are, after all, universal themes. But Go Fish is more didactic missive than diverting narrative. Non-lesbians are likely to come away feeling more lectured to than entertained.
It doesn't help matters any that the largely amateur cast is enthusiastic and authentic but minimally skilled. The dialogue they struggle with is maddeningly uneven -- clever and inventive one minute, preachy and pedantic the next. Some of the lines have the comic bite of Woody Allen at the top of his game, others sound as though they were written by the kind of pretentious, self-absorbed characters Allen routinely lambastes. Passages such as "Man, you've really gotta loosen up. Chill out. Get laid. She's a total babe. Really hot. Did you go for it?" serve little purpose beyond illustrating that lesbians can be as petty, vulgar, superficial, and inarticulate as any heterosexual.
I hate reviewing single-issue movies like this. It's a no-win proposition. Some readers will invariably confuse my criticism of the film with commentary on a lifestyle. The movie has a few sweet moments; their common denominator seems to be that they are natural byproducts of character-driven conversation rather than stilted soliloquies or forced philosophizing. "Don't think about it every second," the protagonist scribbles in her diary at movie's end. "The girl is out there." Too bad Go Fish didn't take its own advice. Trying too hard is the film's fatal flaw.