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Kelly: Slamdance Review

The Bottom Line

This stand-out portrait of a young transgendered hooker combines personality and pathos to highly watchable effect.

Director

James Stenson

Director James Stenson captures a standout portrait of young transgendered Hollywood hooker Kelly Van Ryan.

Had Andy Warhol been making films today, he likely wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing Kelly Van Ryan into the Factory fold.

An attractive transgender Hollywood hooker barely out of her teens with a crystal meth addiction and self-possessed attitude to burn, the individual born Raphael Gibson -- she shares her professional name with the Denise Richards character in Wild Things — is a true character unto herself.

Wisely letting his subject speak for herself, first-time filmmaker James Stenson has delivered an intimately shot, engaging documentary portrait.

With a 50-minute running time, it really can’t be considered theatrical material, though it provides ample reason to give its colorful protagonist her own cable reality series.

Escaping an abusive childhood in her rural North Carolina, Kelly arrived in Hollywood at 16 with a childhood best friend and dreams of becoming a movie star.

Not too long after, those plans were modified to turning tricks with a loyal clientele to cover the cost of her various surgeries, hormone injections and drug addiction.

When Stenson catches up with her sometime later, things have taken a decided downward turn.

Business has dropped off, she’s battled separate drug and prostitution charges, and she’s been evicted from her apartment.

While we may have heard the story before, the central subject is a true original with a swagger that barely conceals a sympathetic naivete and a lifetime of hurt and confusion, not to mention an oblivious gift for Jessica Simpson-isms.

At one point, Kelly reasons that she couldn’t have attention deficit disorder because she always gets plenty of attention.

For the most part, Stenson, who has earned a reputation as a magazine photographer, keeps his lens tightly up close and personal, but he pulls back a bit when Kelly goes home to spend some dysfunctional time with her mother -- another piece of work who has shown her support for her transgendered child by dutifully posting Kelly’s personal ads each week on Craigslist.

The Denise Richards edition’s got nothing on this Kelly Van Ryan.

Venue: Slamdance 
Production companies: Good Trick Prods. 
Director: James Stenson 
Executive producers: James Alario, Anne Kemp, Elizabeth Racster
Directors of photography: James Alario, James Stenson
Music: Russell Spurlock 
Editor: Meghan Klien 
Not rated, 50 minutes