I am so incredibly thankful to have been given the opportunity to write about NewFest’s retrospective series Queering the Canon: Rom-Coms. This five-day event is highlighting queer romantic comedies, most of which are largely unknown outside of queer spaces. I was lucky enough to attend the festival virtually and even interview most of the filmmakers and organizers at NewFest! This is my first time covering a festival and I’m excited to watch the variety of films offered by NewFest in partnership with BAM.
NewFest began in 1988 and works to bring LGBTQ+ films and media to audiences in the city. Their work within the queer community is phenomenal, as is the repertoire of filmmakers they’ve worked with.
the incredibly true adventure of two girls in love
April 28th marked the first screening of the retrospective Queering the Canon. The film selected was Maria Maggenti’s The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995). In this film, Maggenti depicts the budding relationship between two girls who live very different lives: Randy (Laurel Holloman) and Evie (Nicole Ari Parker). Regardless of their differences in social status, class, race, and fashion, once their worlds collide they find themselves embarking on a secret relationship that is eventually brought to light.
What I love about the film is its authenticity. It was as if someone reached into my mind and ripped out a piece of my own experiences as a lesbian. Even though I wasn’t around in the 90s, Two Girls reflects so much about lesbian culture during that time. The music Randy listens to, the posters she has on her wall, and the sense of community surrounding her and her family. It all is so real that you know it’s coming straight from Maggenti’s heart and lived experiences as a queer woman. The film definitely has inspiration from its predecessors within the sphere of lesbian films, such as Go Fish (which Maggenti mentions as an influence). The low-budget, indie style that most queer films had before the 2000s is apparent here, which loops back to the New Queer Cinema movement of the 80s and 90s.
There is so much of this film that I relate to. In Two Girls Evie gives Randy a book of poems on their first date – Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. On my third date with my girlfriend, they gave me a book of sapphic short stories with a note in it asking if I wanted to be their girlfriend. Even the subplot surrounding Randy’s aunt, her girlfriend, and ex-girlfriend is relatable to lesbians. The lesbian community is so close-knit that it’s often common to be friends with your ex.
The point of the retrospective is to highlight queer romantic comedies. So many LGBTQ+ films are centered around tragedy, birthing tropes like “bury your gays“. As a lesbian, I want to see movies where queer love is normalized and celebrated. Two Girls does just that. The film takes place during Randy and Evie’s senior year of high school, a time that often means the start of adult life. Similar to other high school rom-coms (think John Hughes, She’s All That, Clueless) Two Girls braids together the stresses of graduation with the elation of a new romance. Even the unavoidable homophobia of living in a small town in the 90s is shadowed by the power of their love for each other, and in the end, they face their family and community together. They make an oath over Leaves of Grass to symbolize their undying love for one another – the symbolism of doing this over an undeniably queer poet is not lost on the viewer. This shows the endurance of queer love and the promises that we make to each other. The film ends somewhat ambiguously but with the hope that they truly love each other and that is simply enough.
I wish I had seen The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love when I was in high school. Seeing two girls fall in love on screen in a familiar (if not dreadful) setting like high school would have brought me so much hope. I can only dream that more young lesbians get the chance to see this film and not feel so alone.
interview with Maria Maggenti
I was given the opportunity to ask Maria Maggenti some questions about her film. She has also written other films like Before I Fall (2017).
How was the process of writing and directing your feature film? Was it different from other projects you’ve worked on?
MM: “Two Girls in Love was my first feature film and it was an exhilarating and terrifying experience because I wasn’t even finished with graduate film school. But its success changed my life and turned me into a filmmaker, screenwriter, and TV writer which was beyond what I had imagined.”
Is The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love informed by your own experiences with gender and sexuality? Were you inspired by other queer filmmakers and artists?
MM: “Two Girls was inspired by my relationship with my first girlfriend who was also the first great love of my life. I didn’t really have any experience with gender aside from being a young lesbian in love. There were almost no lesbian or gay filmmakers when I made this movie. There was Desert Hearts (1985) which was set in the past and featured a lesbian falling for a straight woman, then there was Go Fish (1994) which was the first lesbian movie that really showed lesbian life and love with human, irony, and sex and it came out a year before my film. Otherwise, it was a barren landscape.”
How has your time with ACT UP shaped your art?
MM: “I think my time with ACT UP has informed every single thing in my life except maybe my movie-making. What I mean is, I am a lifelong activist and see everything through the lens of social justice, nonviolent civil disobedience, and lesbian and gay culture. Although my work is infused with these values it is not necessarily a direct result of my time as a young lesbian with a megaphone. Perhaps that is a story that I have yet to write.”
What projects are you working on now? Has telling queer stories/making indie films changed over the last few decades?
MM: “Sometimes I can’t believe how much lesbian and gay content there is – it’s just astonishing! There are queer people everywhere in media, the arts, movies, TV. There was no way I could have foreseen the extraordinary way lesbian, gay, and trans life has made it into the mainstream culture. It’s great.
There is a whole world of queer filmmakers who I think have a far better future than I did when I started out. Two Girls was a very successful and influential movie for its time but there is no doubt in my mind that because I did a movie about young lesbians I set my career back by many years. There just wasn’t the acceptance at that time and there was no lesbian visibility so the movie was somewhat ghettoized in the film world and did not achieve the kind of attention or interest that indie filmmakers in general received and gay male filmmakers got as well. Even though the movie had a huge impact on the young lesbians and gay men who saw it, some of whom took great risks to do so, it did not open doors the way I believe it would now.
I do think, however, that the film pushed the door open for other gay and lesbian filmmakers and was important to emerging queer culture in general, an emerging culture that is out in the world and constantly evolving in a spectacular way. I am writing my own material in the few months I have free before going back to a TV writers room. I have moved between feature film writing and TV jobs for the past ten years and it has been a really great life. I do wish I were directing but I haven’t given up hope.
I hope you get a chance to see Two Girls with a bunch of friends and eat popcorn and be happy.”