Boy Mets Girl – We are all imposing sterotypes. (Mardi Gras Film Festival Review)
Boy Meets Girl is just one of the attractions at this years Sydney Mardi Gras film festival, Feb 19 to Mar 5.
Boy Meets Girl is a complicated film wrapped up in a simplistic tale. It’s brilliance teeters on three clever filmic devices; the warm and engaging nature of Michelle Hendley, a refusal to answer ‘the questions of gender’ and a stereotyped rom-com with caricatured humans acting out their rom-com existence as mini satellites around Hendley. While the film has been panned for its over-the-top adherence to stereotypes, it can be analysed as its own commentary on the nature of those stereotypes. It comes alive with a wit and wisdom that uses transgenderism as a vehicle to question all forms of sexual and gender stereotyping, rather than the familiar feminist “problem” that rises as soon as men say they want to be women and start with feminine stereotyping as if it is evidence of mistaken gender identity. Boy Meets Girl centres around Ricky, a transgendered pre-op female. However rather than dissolve into a proof of the right for Ricky to identify any way she wishes, Boy Meets Girl focusses on biological mechanics allowing the questions of gender identity and sexual identity to be discussed by the three stereotypes around her.
Ricky (Michelle Hendley) has identified as a girl from a very early age. Soon after she ‘turned’ her mother died of cancer, and Ricky found herself alone with her father and much younger brother. She had problems at school, but could always rely on her best friend Robby (Michael Welch of Twilight fame) to stand by her as they grew up together and navigated any typical teen problems in life. The film opens with Ricky at work in a cafe laughing with Robby about there being no decent men. Robby sleeps around with women – a lot – but Ricky finds men difficult. Then Francesca walks in (Alexandra Turshen) and makes an instant connection with Ricky, causing both young women to consider lesbianism as an option. Soon Francesca, who is engaged to a marine fighting in Iraq named David (Michael Galante) has began a relationship with Ricky that threatens to turn too cosy for a betrothed virgin. As Robby looks on with some discomfort, Ricky and Francesca really start to fall for each other, and that’s when the trouble with David and Robby really begins.
That’s the rom-com version of the film, almost a mistaken identity/I loved you all along thing. However, in a brilliant twist, Ricky is very much a normal girl, while the three satellite characters are little more than cardboard cut outs of an imposed identity. Robby is the handsome, good guy who stands by Ricky “no matter what”, sleeps around and will (spoiler! – if you can really call it that) eventually find that he has loved Ricky all along. While Ricky is written in a naturalist style, Robby is caricatured and it takes Ricky to expose the fallacy in Robby’s style of masculinity. Not through his deeds or an event, rather the presence of Ricky dilutes all the sex-sterotypes so that every so-called natural “male” action appears forced.
This comes out most strongly with Francesca, the princess prom queen who has lied to everyone about being a virgin, most of all to her fiance who is fighting the war on terror overseas. It is the presence of Ricky in her life that makes her question her own hyper-stylised brand of gender identification. At a crucial confessional toward the end of the film when she and fiance David (he emerges as the homophobe who is secretly attracted to Ricky) talk about their experiences, they both clarify that something inside Ricky makes them want to “be around her.” Francesca herself says she is such a better person for having known Ricky. Rather than enforce a sexual and gender stereotype, Ricky provides not only the possibility of freedom from that prison, she brings the falseness of their forced gender associated actions to the surface.
This goes starkly against the much criticised stereotype of transgenderism – particularly M-T-F that imposes a male ideal of femininity, insisting on it as a demarkation point between the sexes. Feminists (as we all know) have been hyper critical of males who demand to be called female because they wear make-up and take on other stylised images of the male fantasy female, when in fact to be labeled as a female is to take a lower position in society, focused around a supposedly servile nature and is ultimately an economic construct. Ricky challenges this notion with the transformation of those around her, even as she changes herself. Ricky (as transgenderism does) opens up the conversation about mannerisms and affectations and their role in defining societal sex and gender stereotypes, so that you are left with a Foucault-like questioning, or along the lines of Slavoj Zizek saying “woman is a symptom of man.” In the world of Ricky, we are all symptoms of a collective (un)reasoning that imposes gender-assigning mannerisms in order to preserve what we claim to be natural.
But the best thing of all about Boy Meets Girl, is that this happens to the audience. If, as was true for some critics of the film, you can’t see past the coy performances to anything deeper, there is no doubt you will fall in love with Michelle Hendley as Ricky and gain some access to the sense of what I describe above. She is enormously magnetic and makes a world filled with blurred lines impossibly appealing. One never gets the sense Ricky is trying to be “female” rather that she is externalizing a journey into herself with a courage that is commanding and makes one envious. It is true that Ricky suffers, and that is not something anyone wants for her, but it never stands in the way of the overwhelming feeling of warmth and joy she engenders in others. Eric Shaeffer has made a film that is far more endearing than first glance would presume, and you leave the cinema wondering what just happened.