Catalina High School in Tuscon, Arizona wasn’t that much different than any other American high school in the 90’s. That’s what makes the true story of the Lady Trojans so universal. Anna Hesik was one of several lesbians on her basketball team who became involved in a complex web of love, sex, backstabbing, and rejection. This sort of drama is pretty typical of any group of teenagers. And “Lady Trojans,” which screened at this year’s QFest in Philadelphia, does a terrific job of showing how growing up gay isn’t much different from just plain growing up.
The story follows director Elizabeth Hesik’s sister, Anna, as she joins the basketball team, discovers her sexuality, and falls in love with a bit of a lothario named Quinn. However, “Lady Trojans” is not about basketball. The sport takes a backseat to relationships and sex both in the film and in the lives of the girls it portrays. Hesik uses home movies, interviews, and re-enactments to place the viewer right into the heart of the drama. At times it feels almost uncomfortably voyeuristic, as the girls apparently lived in front of their camcorder shooting slumber parties and choreographed dance routines. Regardless of your sexual orientation, it’s impossible not to recall your own mortifying memories while watching Anna reading some of the love poetry she wrote to exorcise her romantic demons.
The outfits, hair, and music exacerbate the cringe-worthiness, and serve to Delorean us straight back to the 90’s. Big shorts, big hair, and sports bras are the dominant garb of choice. Quinn dons a particularly impressive hi-top hairdo that would give Kid a run for his money. Anna’s Belinda-Carlisle-looking former best friend (who is not a lesbian) has the most embarrassing hair of all, which she admits was inspired by TV heartthrob Kirk Cameron.
The only real problem with the film is the re-enactments, which are based on Anna’s fictionalized account of events (the film is based on her short story). Shot in a blown-out, “Unsolved Mysteries” style, they play out like a bad episode of “Degrassi,” and that means bad. While they do help to change up the storytelling and fill in narrative blanks, the stiffness of the acting and over-expository dialog detracts from an otherwise raw and candid film.
By and large, however, “Lady Trojans” is a realistic and empathetic portrayal of teenagers attempting to figure out who they are. It’s also really refreshing to see a coming-of-gay tale that doesn’t result in violence and death.