'Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride': Film Review

Less-than-penetrating portrait compares poorly with other current films on trans subjects.

Robyn Symon's doc introduces a macho Floridian who became a woman late in life.

A sour-and-sweet cocktail that introduces pulpy ingredients to the usual story of sex-change transition, Robyn Symon's Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride introduces a macho man from Florida who decided to become a woman, at least in part, as a way to avoid imprisonment for unpaid alimony. Underexploring its less sympathetic aspects in favor of a feel-good senior citizen narrative, the documentary lacks the psychological depth and sensitivity of many other recent trans-oriented films. Even among those that embrace the outrageousness sometimes inherent in these transitions, it is overshadowed by Michael Del Monte's new Transformer, which focuses on a champion male weightlifter who became a woman in the public eye.

Bernard “Butch” Rosichan, proprietor of a Florida auto salvage business, is described by his nephew as "nasty" and "homophobic." He had a couple of lousy marriages and a fair bit of apparently self-inflicted misfortune. Eager to get on to its main focus, the doc glosses over crucial episodes that need more explanation if we're to understand the transformation to come: the loss of custody of his two sons, Butch's involvement in a "very large stolen-car ring" and, most important, how an ugly divorce got him thrown in jail for 120 days.

At some point in there (it's incredibly vague), we're told that a girlfriend took Butch to Chicago with secret plans to dress him up as a woman, and he enjoyed it once it happened. Then, when he was threatened with a second stretch in jail, he hid from police by dressing as a woman full time.

If they aren't bothered by the holes in this story and by a narrator whose apparent unreliability goes mostly unquestioned, viewers may enjoy getting to know the woman Butch became. Gloria Stein is a glamorous blonde, very convinced of her feminine charms but also willing to get salty when necessary. We watch (in footage that flirts with full-frontal gore) as Gloria, at age 67, has sex-reassignment surgery, completing her transformation even though she says she was never one of those people who felt like a woman born in a man's body.

Skeptical viewers may be less ambivalent about Dan Friedman, the boyfriend who is part of Gloria's decision to undergo the surgery. Dan was one of those people who felt imprisoned in the wrong body: Dan was born a girl, and tried living as a lesbian before rethinking things and starting male hormones. The two have been together for a decade or so, and Dan clearly has a tempering effect on Gloria.

Though Symon gives every sign of liking her subjects, Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride lacks the power some other docs have of overcoming whatever prejudices a viewer may walk in with. One wouldn't want to give this film to a friend who read the summary and dismissed Gloria and Dan as freaks. The gaps in our understanding of Butch are too large to guarantee we root for his escape into the altogether more pleasant persona of Uncle Gloria.

Production company: Symon Productions
Distributor: XLRator Media
Director-Producer-Editor: Robyn Symon
Executive producer: Gerald Sprayregen
Director of photography: Wes Malkin
Composer: Ronen Landa

73 minutes