In this era of over-sharing communication and an epidemic of bullying that ranges from anonymous on-line taunts, through trumped-up invasions, to grisly beheadings—all, pathetically, commonplace—how refreshing it is indeed to have a film that, in due course, celebrates one of the different amongst us rather than paints yet another portrait of gloom and doom.
And while director/writer Eric Schaeffer’s production is, ostensibly, about a transgendered soul trying to make a go of it in small-town Kentucky, his message, attitude and refreshingly—if at times stereotypical—honesty ought to become required viewing for those who delight in throwing the first stone.
Central to the plot and the film’s success is the role of Ricky. Michelle Hendley in her début performance carries most of the film on her emotional and physical shoulders with style, skill and courage (including a truly heroic moment of stripped-down vérité) that will be the envy of any actor, no matter what persuasion or stage in their careers.
Sure, most the script’s plot points can be predicted far ahead (with a couple of exceptions—notably the curious road to fashion in the Big Apple) and the characterizations are too black-and-white in this world of perpetual grey. Michael Galante’s David—the rah-rah US Marine who spews bigotry at the slightest provocation (even if, like so many other bullies, he doth protest too much)—being a prime example of too on-the nose personality, but those defects can largely be ignored as Schaeffer works through his agenda.
Playing David’s fiancée then suddenly-smitten-with-Ricky, Francesca, Alexandra Turshen is wonderfully naïve as she samples forbidden fruit that is not entirely unspoiled. Ricky’s much younger brother Sam (charmingly rendered by Joseph Ricci) delivers his narrative-rich scenes with skill beyond his years (the recurring set piece—a “private” video made by Ricky, using hand-written cards instead of audio to describe troubling past events, including her mother’s “disappearance”—has a wonderful payoff which, thankfully, shows the positive force social media can be).
Also acquitting himself with distinction is Michael Welch as Ricky’s best friend, Robby. The constant companions have few secrets from each other (and still less by the closing credits…). Perhaps their best moment together is the very detailed, frank discussion as to just what constitutes gay sex.
Here’s to another installment form Schaeffer and Hendley. What could possibly go wrong in the Big Apple? JWR