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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Billy Porter
scr Ximena Garcia Lecuona
prd Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Andrew Lauren, DJ Gugenheim
with Eva Reign, Abubakr Ali, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Courtnee Carter, Kelly Lamor Wilson, Grant Reynolds, Miriam Laube, Manu Narayan, Vanita Harbour, Naveen Paddock, Alec Ludacka, Noah Pacht
release US/UK 22.Jul.22
22/US Orion 1h36
Is it streaming?
Shiny and glittery, this warm-hearted high school romance is brightly optimistic, which isn't surprising for the directing debut of Billy Porter. Neither is the fact that it celebrates a wonderful mix of ethnicity and gender, acknowledging prejudice while refusing to give it airtime. Gorgeously designed, the film is directed with a choreographic sensibility. So even if the plot feels too pointedly structured, it's involving, important and ultimately sweet.
As a sparky 17-year-old trans girl in Pittsburgh, Kelsa (Reign) is fiercely supported by her mother (Goldsberry), while her colourful best friends Em and Chris (Carter and Wilson) think it's time she finds a boyfriend. Then in art class she meets the shy Khal (Ali), and there's an instant attraction. Kelsa is enjoying her first crush, while Khal is determined to follow his heart even though he's nervous about how others will react, specifically his casually homophobic pal Otis (Reynolds). Their relationship causes ripples through the school, costing both of them their best friends.
Narrated by Kelsa's vlog entries, the story feels deliberate in its positivity. She's fascinated by animals that are truly unique, especially when it comes to survival traits. But she's tired of just surviving; she's ready to thrive. She also hates it when people tell her how brave she is, while Khal doesn't like being identified as nice. Of course, everything has to come to a head in order to propel the plot into the final act, but while the conflicts feel narratively contrived, they make essential points.
In this story, even smaller side characters are bundles of quirky energy, which makes the film strongly engaging. The talented young Reign and Ali are terrific at the centre, charming and thoughtful, smart kids who understand their situation even as they are still finding their feet in the world. Where their story goes is loaded with both provocative touches and strong resonance. And each member of the surrounding ensemble around them shines brightly.
The script unflinchingly tackles how people use language, specifically mislabelling, as a violent weapon. Frankly, when you look at someone, you have to see more than gender or ethnicity. And the story's echoing theme focusses on the need to live our best life now, rather than doing what people expect and then later wondering, "What if...." Meanwhile at its centre, this is just an embracing romance between two teens who understand that this is only a step in their journey to become who they are meant to be.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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