We want to welcome Kathrine to the Graphic Policy team. A fantastic debut review and can’t wait to see more! – The Management
I want to be up front about my motivations for writing this review. I am a transgender woman, and I wanted to review this movie from that perspective instead of that of a movie critic. If you want a more professional review, there are hundreds out there that you can read, written by people who probably know cinema a hell of a lot better than I do. The problem is that the majority of them are written by cisgender critics, and most tiptoe around the film’s subject matter. I honestly can’t blame them. It’d be like tap-dancing in a minefield.
But I, as trans woman, can view this movie with slightly different perspective than our cisgender critics. That gives me a little bit more political leeway to be critical of this movie if need be. I’ve wanted to watch this since I’ve heard about it, because it seemed like we’re finally going to be getting a movie where a transgender person isn’t going to be used as a victim, the butt of a joke, or any of the other tropes that kind of go hand in hand with having a transgender character. Plus, it’s being played by a transgender woman and not (gasp!) a cisgender man or woman pretending to be trans. Not too long ago, I came across a post on Tumblr, that warns that the director Eric Schaeffer is something of a trans chaser, and has a set of GIFs from the movie that keeps getting passed around that can make it look kind of skeevy out of context.
So with that being said, how was the movie? Was it good? Well, yes and no. All in all, I liked it and I would recommend it because Ricky, the main character played by Michelle Hendley, is probably the best representation of a transgender person. Much more so than Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura in Transparent. The film is about a young twenty-something transgender woman living in rural Kentucky, and how a new relationship with a wealthy white cis woman of similar age affects her and the people closest to her. The movie’s biggest downfall is that the plot is really generic, and it hits a lot of the same tired beats that almost every rom-com movie hits. If you had replaced Ricky with a cisgender woman, this movie would have been almost unbearably trite. The ending is eye rollingly unbelievable in how everything gets tied up with a happy little bow, and the film might as well have been just another Nora Ephron production.
Other than that, how does it handle the whole transgender thing? Very well, actually. Very, very well in my opinion. Ricky is very open about being transgender, and the movie really shines when she talks about it in casual conversation between either her long time friend and confidant Robby (Michael Welsh) and Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), who acts as a kind of stand in for the audience when the film begins. Francesca is a new face in town, and, despite being engaged, finds herself being fascinated by Ricky (and not because Ricky is trans, but because Ricky is a fascinating person), and when she learns that Ricky is transgender she serves as the audience’s proxy for some of the more awkward questions that people may have for transgender people. The conversations between Robby and Ricky are that of two good friends who constantly rib each other about everything. Robby is somebody that she confides in, and you get to see some of the other kinds of issues that transgender people have that people rarely consider.
Between these three, you get a very solid and diverse exploration of sexuality and gender politics which, as complicated as they are, get even more complicated when you have somebody that crosses the gender binary. For example, after Ricky and Francesca have sex, Francesca asks, “Does that make me a lesbian?” Conversely, Ricky and Robby have a conversation about what actually constitutes as “gay sex.” If she was involved with a cisgender man, which would then involve two penises, is that gay? Thankfully, the movie doesn’t really try to answer for us. Perhaps it’s because there isn’t an easy answer, at least, not one that can be neatly presented within the show’s 90 minute run time. These questions touch on a very real issues that we, as transgender men and women, have to struggle with in our daily lives.
During the course of the film I really identified with Ricky. She’s snarky and open about being transgender, and she has all the same kind of foibles that most trans women I’ve met have (including myself). There’s a scene where she’s measuring her bust, writing it down in a little journal she keeps for just this, and bitches about how small she is to Robby. “I’ve been on hormones for 7 years and we’re still just A cups,” she complains. I’ve been there. Hell, I’m still there myself. She’s unafraid of talking about her gender, and doesn’t try to hide who she is. It’s a little moment of realness of the character that kind of permeates the film that made her really easy for me to identify with. Her openness with her gender identity matches my own, as does our predilection for irreverent sarcasm.
So let’s talk about that scene. You know, the one I had mentioned before. Is it skeevy? For me, not in the least. That set of GIFs removes just about every bit of context of that scene. Ricky had just broken up with Francesca, had just been denied entrance to a fashion college in New York City (which was her life long dream,) and just had a major fight with Robby. It’s about as low a point as one can get. Robby gets shown a video she had made years ago, in which she admits to cutting, and to contemplating suicide. He sets off in a panic, thinking she’s gone off to finally do the deed and when he finds her she’s at their long time swimming hole, just swimming. It’s at this time that he realizes how much he does lover her romantically (I mean, it was obvious to everybody but them that they were) and that he does find her beautiful. She pulls herself out of the water, fully nude, to show him exactly who she is. She challenges both him and the audience to consider what beauty actually means by displaying herself as an example. It is a powerful and touching scene, and I think it was very well done. Her nakedness isn’t played for shock value and his acceptance is emotionally honest.
All in all, I like this film. I definitely definitely recommend it, and would have given it a much higher rating if it wasn’t for its fairly generic plot and idiotic Hollywood ending. It’s a good and believable look into the life of a young transgender woman. It subverts a lot of stereotypes about life in the South, and the frank dialogue is both highly amusing and most likely eye opening for the average viewer.
Overall rating: 7
Director – Eric Schaeffer
Writer – Eric Schaeffer
Starring – Michelle Hendley, Michael Welsh, Alexandra Turshen
Rated – Unrated
Run time – 95 min.