Within the mainstream cinematic canon, queer films are often restricted to the same tales. The coming out drama, the identity crisis, the hellish story of bullying and woe – in these environments, it is our sexuality that poses the problem, a seemingly eternal cause of trouble. Whilst these films undoubtedly have their merits, this pattern begs the question: how does this narrative fit into our understanding of ourselves, and how can we reconcile this idea of queerness as difficulty with our day to day lives? The answer is often found in independent cinema, made by LGBTQ+ people for LGBTQ+ people, where our daily reality may be reflected on screen in a positive light.
The Sympathy Card is a beautiful example of the normalcy of queerness. In this independent lesbian rom-com, no drama is found in the identities of the characters, rather, we are afforded the same dilemmas as our heterosexual counterparts, gently reshaping the typical romcom format into a film that is effortlessly relatable to lesbian and bisexual women alike.
The crisis of losing a loved one is The Sympathy Card’s chosen topic, and writer/director Brendan Boogie handles the subject with a light yet empathetic touch. After Emma Bordeau’s (Petey J. Gibson) diagnosis with lung cancer, she informs her wife Josie (Nika Ezell Pappas) of a surprising deathbed wish: Josie is to use the titular sympathy card to encourage other women to sleep with her, in an effort to secure another partner after Emma is gone. It’s a ridiculous ask in Josie’s opinion, but Emma is solemn in her request, prioritising her idea of her wife’s happiness above all else. Josie reluctantly goes ahead with this demand, leading to a series of increasingly awkward encounters, interspersed with flashbacks which illuminate the pair’s journey towards marital bliss.
Caught up in all her listless dates, Josie overlooks her blossoming relationship with shop owner Siobhan (Lauren Neal), a frequent presence in her life due to Josie’s obsession with buying Emma flowers. The attraction eventually comes to a head, and Josie must balance the severity of her impending grief alongside the promise of a new love. These emotions are sensitively examined through Boogie’s lens, intertwining despite Josie’s initial uncertainty, which allows the film to maintain a healthy respect for polyamorous choices. Flawed yet intrinsically human, the characters of The Sympathy Card are given ample room to make mistakes that come with all loving relationships, fleshed out far beyond what is expected from the typical rom-com. Emma, Josie and Siobhan demonstrate remarkably distinct character traits and their situations, fears and expectations of romance differ wildly, to create a story which treats queerness as just one element of a gay woman’s wider identity.
Whilst The Sympathy Card doesn’t always hit the right comedic mark in its quirky conversational humour, these failures only add to the film’s wider tone of kitsch awkwardness. Characters are more than just perfectly constructed figures on the screen, expressing themselves flawlessly through poetic language. Instead, dialogue stammers and trips up, demonstrating the authenticity of these women; Josie, Emma, Siobhan and their friends become instantly relatable as various figures across any queer friendship group. A refreshing change from a canon dedicated to the pain of our existence, The Sympathy Card focuses instead on the ordinariness of lesbian emotion, and the everyday beauty of our relationships.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Brendan Boogie