“Tru Love” is Truthful to Lesbian Love Stories

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Winner of 14 international film awards since its 2013 release, Tru Love presents the lesbian love triangle with a twist. A friendship between a lesbian and a sexually “confused” straight girl that was slightly marred by a one night stand becomes increasingly strained when the lesbian falls in love with the straight girl’s mother. This is clever. But the film cannot escape its tethers to the beast that is lesbian filmmaking—and this is why it feels so eye-gougingly awful like the majority of lesbian cinema.

In addition to the premise, where the film shines the brightest is in its acting. The three female leads—Shauna MacDonald as Tru, the wayward lesbian; Christine Horne as Suzanne, the career-driven, sexually-confused straight girl; and Kate Trotter as Alice, the recent widow who becomes enamored with Tru—are talented at their craft. In the annals of lesbian cinema this cannot be overemphasized: this lesbian romance has actors who can actually act.

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This is, unfortunately, the only aspect of Tru Love that differentiates it from other lesbian romance films. Even Nicole Conn’s Perfect Ending, released a year earlier in 2012, had the age-gap, ill-fated love story as its premise. All lesbian romance films, whether drama or comedy, fail in their delivery of the art. It’s not that these films are so clearly tied to generic convention that makes them utterly unwatchable; it’s that they all are guilty of exposing the threads of the plot that feel amateur. It’s as if the filmmakers modeled their works on soap operas rather than cinema.

In Tru Love, this failure manifests in two ways, both of which bespeak the psychological hand-holding of over-narration: poor editing and redundant storytelling. Some scenes that repeated plot points already evident to the viewer—like the one in which Alice asks Suzanne, who is too busy working at her computer to pay attention to her mother, for permission to “take a walk” with Tru—could have been cut. Others felt labored and too tangentially metaphorical, like the repeated cut to scenes of flowing waves of ices.  

Watching this film, that is wholly representative of lesbian cinema, raises the oft-heard lament of why lesbians make such crappy art. In terms of cinema, in particular, there are arguably less than a handful of diamonds in the rough.

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A majority of lesbian films are guilty of the same thing: a painstaking and belabored-to-the-point-of-exhaustion unveiling of subtext. That is, lesbian cinema is guilty of “lesbian processing.” This results in a number of cringeworthy “stereotypical” problems in lesbian cinema, from the tone and performances feeling hyperbolic, to the dialogue being stilted and methodical.

The consequence is that these films are not allowed to breathe. But it’s not that these filmmakers distrust their audiences—it’s that they lack faith within themselves.

The cause of this problem is profoundly “lesbian”: It’s like lesbian filmmakers continually feel the need to justify their art in the content of the work itself. In some sense, as lesbians continue to be marginalized not only within the mainstream but also within their own LGBTQ community, it’s no wonder that lesbian artists keep fighting for a bit of cultural space. At the same time, however, the content of the art becomes marred by the both the overt need to justify itself and the residual effects of what is, in essence, art created from a defensive position.

Lesbians need to stop feeling guilty for their art and need to stop making excuses for taking up space. But this would require them to willingly give up their seats on the sidelines, which, some may argue, they feel comfortable resting in, like a angry peanut gallery ceaselessly complaining about having “no power” or “money” or “resources.” Lesbians, in some ways, need to divorce parts of their subjectivity from their art.

Tru Love, to be clear, isn’t maligned by this type of lesbian whining from the margins. But its very promising elements of plot and performance are overwhelmed by lesbian cinematic tradition, whereby through directing and editing the film is forced to justify itself. This need to justify itself means that the film’s subtext doesn’t remain subtext at all, as audiences are hit over the head with it again and again. And, if everything is rendered knowable and evident, what’s the point of the film, or of viewing it? This was the problem with Tru Love, within five minutes the entire plot was intelligible, so most scenes, therefore, felt like the entire point of their existence was to justify their existence, because they really, in some ways, weren’t necessary.

Tru Love is available from Wolfe Video.

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