Sophie Hyde impresses with a fresh, touching feature about transitioning
What if the person you love most doesn’t want to be the same person anymore? This heartfelt but playful take on family and gender politics sees 16-year-old Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) face an altered relationship with her mother Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) when the latter decides to transition to a male body and identity. The winner of the World Cinema, Directing Award at Sundance 2014, Sophie Hyde’s debut narrative feature is an unusual take on the ‘issue film’, which impresses by favouring intimacy, whimsical humour and spiky, inconsistent emotions over preaching.
It doesn’t tell us what we should think about Jane becoming James, but takes tender account of his difficulties and those experienced by the people around him, as he and his daughter effectively experience a sort of simultaneous adolescence. Stylistically, the film owes something to Mike Mills' Beginners, which also dealt in sweetly low-key and frequently comic fashion with a shift in a parent’s sexual identity. If nascent hipster narcissist Billie can be pretty annoying, that’s because she’s played by the very striking Cobham-Hervey as a real, gawky, needy teenager – a character whose authenticity serves to remind us just how often teenage girls are played as either temptresses or preternaturally smart-mouthed kooks.
Unsurprisingly for a film made up as the production went along – Billie and James meet for only one day a week, and the film was shot on the same timescale – the energy is patchy, and some elements are less successful than others: Billie’s extended experiment in voyeurism and sexual sharing with a couple of school-friends feels a bit improbable and showy, and arguably layers too much plot on to a film that has quite enough going on already. On the whole, though, this is a fresh, touching experiment with a great deal going for it, and Cobham-Hervey has a face you want to see again.
Selected release from Fri 7 Aug.