The Go Fish queen goes fishing again – this time for gay boys and the men and women who love them
Rose Troche’s Go Fish (1994) was one of the highlights of mid-‘90s New Queer Cinema, an upbeat, inventive low-budget lesbian comedy from an authentic lesbian. The appearance of her second film, Bedrooms and Hallways, is a surprise on several levels. For one thing, it shouldn’t have taken four years to get it off the ground, and another year to get it into general release, since it has every earmark of the ideal gay date movie. Chalk that up to persistent cultural anxieties around funding and distributing queer cinema.
This time Troche replaces the homely, nearly bald lesbians and unapologetic dykes of the earlier film with middle-class queens and the straight women who adore them, all looking like they stepped off the covers of GQ and Elle. While Go Fish proudly bore the marks of its tortured history, with grainy visuals, sometimes ragged acting, and a general air of money-based compromises, Bedrooms and Hallways is much slicker in every regard – the British cast is often superb, as if Troche had plenty of time and budget for rehearsals; the script is full of pith; and the photography is superior, particularly in its skillful use of a mobile camera as the perfect analogue for its characters’ shifting alliances.
If Go Fish was Troche’s insider dyke epic, Bedrooms and Hallways is her double paean to gay male sexuality, and to the uncertain pleasures of shifting sexualities, as the millennium settles in on us in earnest. Like other recent dyke-directed movies about gay men, this one gains points for getting the details of homo love and lust ringingly right. (Gay male directors should be forced to watch certain scenes from this and perhaps Ana Kokkinos’s upcoming Head On for pointers.) Queer audiences may bristle at some of Troche’s tropes, particularly an unexpected and unbelievable eleventh-hour hetero conversion, and the film sometimes goes overboard in satirizing easy targets like the men’s movement and New Age-think. But Bedrooms and Hallways is a skillful sex farce that almost requires a scorecard to follow the movements of its ensemble cast. It’s fast-paced, often engaging, and if sometimes superficial and, at the end, arguably heterosexist, it’s also true enough in its observations to make it a rewarding 96 minutes.
Leo (Kevin McKidd) is a queer cabinetmaker on the verge of that most feared event in GenX mythology: his thirtieth birthday. He lives with evil queen Darren (Tom Hollander) and gorgeous, perpetually horny straight girl Angie (Julie Graham). Still, this Friends-style family isn’t enough; Leo longs for More. Lured by a hetero friend, he joins a straight men’s group run by Keith (Simon Callow) and surprises everybody by using “the honesty stone” to confess his attraction to Brendan (James Purefoy), a hunky Irishman in the group. This triggers a series of engagements and reverses, with the men suddenly discovering, with varying results, their “inner homosexual.”
Meanwhile, Brendan, who’s in the process of shedding a seven-year straight relationship, begins to court a wary Leo, who eventually succumbs to Brendan’s highly visible charms in spite of his (Leo’s) fear of falling in love with a straight man. Some of the film’s best scenes are the quiet moments, far from the film’s farcical center, between the two of them before, during, and after sex. In a moment rarely seen in cinema, “straight” Brendan confesses that “gay” Leo fucked him, and he wants more: “You just can’t get enough of it!” he wisely states.
Complicating matters are several subplots that occupy almost as much screen time as the Brendan-Leo affair. Brendan’s ex-girlfriend turns out to be Sally, who was was in love with Leo in high school. Darren, who represents Everyqueen, is involved with Jeffrey (Priscilla of the Desert’s Hugo Weaving), a real estate agent with a fetish for secretly screwing in the properties he’s listed. (In one memorable scene, Jeremy ties him to naked to a bed only to be interrupted by the owner’s sudden reappearance.) One of the men’s group members becomes insanely jealous of Brendan and Leo’s “breakthrough” and disrupts the group with his own homo wish-list. Angie takes up with Leo’s best friend, and so on.
One of the film’s major targets, when it isn’t tracking the peccadilloes of its large cast, are the excesses of the New Age. Simon Callow’s Keith is hilarious as the ridiculously earnest men’s group leader; faced with a dramatic “breakdown” by one of the members, he leaps to action, unhinged by what he calls the “spontaneous rebirthing” of what looks to more jaundiced eyes like a drama queen’s calculated hysteria. Even better is his wife Sibyl (the fabulous Harriet Walter), an arch creature who’s like a one-woman Greek chorus: “Those two don’t need to fight,” she says of Brendan and one of the other men, “they need to fuck!” Troche miscalculates in having too many scenes of Keith and Sibyl’s various groups, though the sequence where the men go on a “warrior campout” without food is funny indeed. Their intention of foraging for food soon falters, and they order a huge takeout feast, dancing and drumming half-naked around a campfire littered with Styrofoam boxes.
A standout among the actors is Tom Hollander’s Darren, whose dementedly gleeful glances and casually vicious dish put him in a long line of superior cinema sissies that date back to Franklin Pangborn and Clifton Webb. The rest of the cast acquits itself well, helped by Robert Farrar’s clever script. Sample: Angie’s earnest attempts to convince Leo that he must not go out with Sally, his high school flame and Brendan’s ex. She uses an argument that’s unassailable in certain circles: “Leo, you are a strawberry blond. You can’t go out with an ash blonde. It’s not right!”
The film’s mostly light, satirical tone doesn’t prepare the viewer for a questionable ending in which Leo “touches base” with his heterosexuality. It could be argued that this conceit makes sense given the film’s concept of sexuality as fluid (though nobody is or becomes lesbian), but it can also be read as an unfortunate bone thrown to hetero audiences and distributors, who don’t always like their queerness unalloyed.