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Since his successful 1993 debut with My Life’s in Turnaround (co-directed with Donal Lardner Ward), filmmaker Eric Schaefer has had a rather spotty if prolific career. His films often suffer from self-indulgence, and his unfortunate propensity to cast himself in romantic lead roles has only added to the problem. But credit must be given to his latest effort which marks his most sensitive and accomplished film to date. Depicting the struggles of a twentysomething transgender girl dealing with identity and romantic issues, Boy Meets Girl is a funny and touching comedy/drama boasting a superlative debut performance by Michelle Hendley.
Hendley, who is transgender in real life, plays Ricky, who dreams of escaping her mundane existence working at a small coffee shop in rural Kentucky. Her aspirations to attend fashion school in New York City are encouraged by her longtime best friend Robby (Michael Welch), who clearly has no problems with her sexuality.
Ricky’s life takes a dramatic turn when she meets Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), the sort of refined debutante who uses the expression “Charmed, I’m sure” upon being introduced to someone. Despite being engaged to a Marine serving in Afghanistan, Francesca finds herself attracted to Ricky, and the two begin a relationship.
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Never having slept with a woman, Ricky queries the reluctant Robby about what to expect.
“Does it really smell like fish,” she asks, beginning a lengthy and amusingly detailed discussion about both gay and straight sex.
Schaeffer’s screenplay has its melodramatic elements, particularly involving Francesca’s fiancé Michael (Michael Galante) who displays utter contempt and revulsion for Ricky. When he unexpectedly returns home from overseas, his shock upon discovering the two women’s dalliance results in an emotionally charged encounter.
But the film largely concentrates on the relationships between Ricky and the people in her life, including her supportive father and loving kid brother. The characterizations are drawn with an uncommon complexity: Francesca proves far more open-minded than her upbringing would suggest; Robby ultimately realizes that his feelings for Ricky extend far beyond friendship; and even the bigoted Michael turns out to have a reason for his explosive anger.
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But it’s Hendley’s Ricky who commands attention, thanks to the performer’s utter naturalism in front of the camera and her willingness to bare herself both emotionally and, in one of the film’s most affecting scenes, physically. The filmmaker, who sought out Hendley after seeing her confessional videos on YouTube, has done a superb job of shepherding her acting debut.
Boy Meets Girl has been a major success at numerous film festivals, particularly of the LGBT variety, and it’s easy to see why. It presents a moving and honest depiction of transgender issues that should be seen by any young person struggling with his or her identity.
Cast: Michael Welch, Michelle Hendley, Alexandra Turshen, Michael Galante, Joseph Ricci, Randall Newsome
Director/screenwriter: Eric Schaefer
Producers: Eric Schaefer, Elisa Pugliese, Edward Aitken
Executive producer: Penny Luedtke
Directors of photography: Andrew Ravani, Violetta D’Agata
Production designer: Gail Smerigan
Editor: Frank Reynolds
Composer: Matthew Puckett
Casting: Jenn Haltman
No rating, 98 min.
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