Following our roundup of the top 10 gay movie cliches earlier this week, Rebecca Nicholson reveals the top lesbian tropes – including high-concept deaths, sudden-onset homosexuality and spontaneous skinny-dipping
A big talk about complicated feelings in a coffee shop
Pass the double espresso with a frappuccino chaser: in lesbian films, as in lesbian life, there are a lot of feelings to be discussed. (This is what distinguishes an actual lesbian-themed film from one of those other lesbian-themed films.) These conversations can take place in any location, at any time, for any length of time – but the preferred locale is a coffee shop. It isn't as loud as a bar, and all that relationship-processing is so exhausting it makes sense to be able to call on the rallying power of an artificial stimulant.
The pensive walk in a dark forest
The 2001 doomed-teen flick Lost and Delirious involves a lot of misery among the trees, while Swedish film Kiss Me features marginally happier spontaneous kissing brought on by a late-night sighting of Bambi. Women love nature, particularly forests, and particularly forests in which they can walk dramatically and talk about their feelings, or maybe steal a forbidden kiss in a leafy enclave (not a euphemism).
The long, chatty bath for two
In the male gay movie, you have the long shower scene. If there is exposition needed in the lesbian movie, and if the film in question was produced before Game of Thrones made sexposition standard practice, then expect a scene in which two women get into the bath, scrub down and talk about their feelings. Bathroom lighting is useful for achieving that arty look, and nudity seems less gratuitous if there's an accompanying sad slow-mo montage about, say, heroin addiction (as in the Angelina Jolie supermodel biopic, Gia).
The spontaneous outdoor swim
Alternatively, you can combine woodland and water by leaping recklessly into an open-air pool and splashing around a bit. Emily Blunt and Nathalie Press did it arthouse style in My Summer of Love; Neve Campbell and Denise Richards did it non-arthouse style in Wild Things. This is a visual metaphor for the cleansing power of giving in to true love, definitely – and not an excuse to bring on the bikinis, or for the director to shoot that underwater snogging scene they've been fantasising about since they filled out their film-school application.
The tragic, high-concept death
Not all gay films end in the girl getting the girl at some giant fantasy Center Parks cafe (coffee, forests, baths, swimming). Sometimes being gay is hard, and there are doomy, don't-watch-on-a-Sunday films to reflect this, such as Lisa Cholodenko's High Art (a tragic but arty overdose), Lost and Delirious (a tragic suicide while falconing), and that bit in The Hunger where Catherine Deneuve gets offed by a load of Egyptian mummies and a dodgy iron railing. (This is not all that tragic as she sort of deserved it).
Bottomless hate turning to uncontainable lust
Trashcore classic Showgirls is the epitome of this trope, in which two headstrong opposites (played by Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley) realise that their passionate loathing of one another is actually a front for strong gay feelings. This will inevitably end in a sudden embrace of teeth-bashing intensity, while the emotional background music soars as if someone's just leaned on the remote.
This well-worn plot device involves a previously heterosexual woman having a surprising revelation that she is attracted to the gay-leaning free spirit who has suddenly entered her life, and is mostly limited to the alt romcom with aspirations towards quirk. In Imagine Me and You, we know that Lena Headey's character is a gay-leaning free spirit because she wears a parka. But Piper Perabo is a surprise as her love interest, even if her publisher character expresses an interest in football. Perhaps there's something in the water in publishing houses: Kissing Jessica Stein's copy editor lead also unexpectedly falls for an eccentric gal, this time a gallery owner. If Bridget Jones 3 is in need of a plot, look no further.
A cameo by Chloë Sevigny-Piper Perabo-Clea DuVall
On the subject of Perabo, if any one of the above women is in the cast, there is likely to be some talk about feelings. After Boys Don't Cry, Chloë Sevigny pulled on a white T-shirt and leather jacket and straddled a motorbike in If These Walls Could Talk 2; and in the underrated 90s teen alien film The Faculty, Clea DuVall even plays a character pretending to be a lesbian. Willingness to explore your fauxmosexuality shows true actorly dedication.
A discerning indie/retro soundtrack
Allow me a cliche of my own, but lesbians have been known to clamp giant headphones over their ears on occasion; if you spot one in the wild, they are most likely researching a tasteful soundtrack for their gay indie film. Kissing Jessica Stein was a neurotic New York comedy, so naturally went for the Woody Allen jazz feel. Grungey 90s riot grrrl romance All Over Me featured suitably grungey 90s riot grrrl sounds from Sleater-Kinney and Babes in Toyland. More recently, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right had a very Pitchfork-friendly roster, with MGMT, Tame Impala and Fever Ray on the playlist; then it went one muso beyond by naming a character after Joni Mitchell and inserting a scene in which everyone talks about how good she is.
Generally not being very good
There are plenty of decent films with gay content – but if there is a possibility of two female characters getting off with each other, lesbians will also watch any old rubbish. The extreme likelihood of terrible dialogue, hammy acting and the worst writing since season six of The L Word are no obstacle. Hey, if there's some talk about feelings involved – we're in.