boy meets girl
Film, 2014, 3.5 stars
Written and Directed: Eric Schaeffer
Boy Meets Girl is the story of Ricky (Michelle Hendley), a trans-woman living in Kentucky with her family, who carves out a living as a barista in small town and dreams of going to fashion school in New York. Ricky's best friend is Robby, the local mechanic. They have a close-knit, platonic friendship that allows them to tell each other everything, only right from the start we get an inkling that maybe this whole thing isn't quite as platonic as it's made out to be.
One day a beautiful, blonde, southern belle named Francesca enters the cafe where Ricky works, and she has an immediate attraction to Ricky. For her own part, Ricky is intrigued, but isn't quite sure. After all, she's never had feelings for another woman before. On top of all that, Francesca has a fiance she's open about from the beginning, a Marine who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Despite nerves on both sides, Ricky and Francesca enter into a tentative relationship, which tests Ricky's confidence in herself in ways she could never have imagined. Throughout the film, as she explains her past to Francesca, we start to see glimpses of Ricky's life and how she became the woman she is, including life with her family and the tragic circumstances around her mother's disappearance years before. These scenes for me were the best - emotional, heart-wrenching, and so alien to my own experience.
Robby is tested by Ricky's new romance too. He begins to recognise feelings for Ricky that he has never acknowledged to himself before, and his difficulty dealing with these new feelings begins to put a wall between him and Ricky for the first time in their lives. This thoroughly confuses Ricky, until she starts to see it too.
While it is amazing to see this sweet romance with not only a trans character, but one played by a trans actor, I got the horrible feeling while I was watching it that I was enjoying it as a cis-gendered person in a way that potentially trans people wouldn't. Despite having trans friends of my own, I know so little about the experience of being trans that the film felt educational for me, and it was openly so at times, with Ricky explaining her feelings and motivations behind needing to live her life as a woman to what the filmmaker expects is an entirely cis-gendered, ignorant audience.
I was reminded of films I have often sneered at that present lesbianism to the masses in a sugar-coated, easy to swallow way. Those films never feel like they were made for lesbians, rather straight people who are interested in understanding more about lesbianism. So I'm left with this odd dilemma - do I simply just enjoy this film, knowing that it's probably simplifying the trans experience for me as a cis-gendered viewer? Or do I question everything, demand more from trans cinema much like I do with lesbian cinema, and insist it present an authentic experience that trans people can relate to?
I have no answer, except that the creeping feeling that trans people might be upset by it did temper my own enjoyment to some extent. However, I'm not going to give this film a bad rating because of this feeling. I just don't feel qualified to judge. So lets look at it on its pure merits as a piece of cinema.
As with many fairly glossy films of this type that have been made about gay people, I feel like even if this isn't a truly authentic viewpoint, the cis-gendered world has been made slightly more aware and sympathetic of the trans experience through watching this film, and that in itself can only be good thing. Plus, much like lesbian cinema, I wager there aren't too many trans romance films out there with such a thoroughly sweet, satisfyingly happy ending. Another tick in the plus column.
I was thoroughly charmed by Michelle Hendley's performance, and was stunned when I read afterwards that not only was this her first role, but that she had no acting training at all, and director Eric Schaeffer discovered her on YouTube. The romance between her and Francesca felt a bit forced, and I found it at times difficult to reconcile the confident, worldly Ricky with the shy, insecure person she randomly becomes when she's with Francesca. I believe this was supposed to be a way of recognising that some of that confidence Ricky normally displays is just a shield, protecting her otherwise vulnerable soul from the world. It doesn't quite work.
The relationship between Ricky and Robby is beautiful. The nuances of it are explored gently and compassionately. I loved both Robby's fierce, protective loyalty of Ricky as a friend, and the burgeoning love that comes upon him in a way that he feels entirely unable to deal with.
So with some pluses and minuses, I'm going to say I enjoyed the film immensely, squealed with delight in some parts and squirmed with discomfort in others. I enjoyed watching Michelle Hendley bring this character to life, and I hope that this sweet, affecting love story finds an audience, because it deserves to be seen.