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It’s the kind of run-in that happens in small rural towns all the time: An unlucky-in-love transgender woman is chatting with her best friend during a slow shift at a coffee shop. She says to him, “Maybe I should date girls.” Then, in less time than it takes to make a cappuccino, a pretty young thing walks in. And even though this customer is engaged—to a man—she sure seems to be into the barista.
Wait—that’s a pretty unlikely scenario for a tiny town, or a big city, for that matter. Or anywhere, really, except for You Wish, U.S.A. Population: one.
That lone optimistic resident is Eric Schaeffer, writer-director of Boy Meets Girl. And while watching his film, you get the feeling that the budget goons were about to turn off the lights before he could finish, because there are a lot of coincidences that, even by romantic comedy standards, are jammed too-tightly into just 95 minutes.
Exhibit A: Ricky (Michelle Hendley) and BFF Robby (Michael Welch) see Francesca (Alexandra Turshen) at the ol’ waterin’ hole later that day. Yes, they all grew up right here in this Kentucky town! No, they haven’t met ’til now! Though Robby did go to school with Francesca’s Marine fiancé (Michael Galante), who loses his shit when he Skypes his intended from Afghanistan and she mentions her new friend Ricky.
Schaeffer isn’t exactly subtle with exposition, either: “But when you turned 16, something changed.” “Something… changed.” (Please, tell me all about it, my close confidant since childhood.) Francesca all but blares through a bullhorn that she’s never been the adventurous or experimental type. So far.
You might laugh when Francesca, after Ricky reveals that she’s transgender, says, “Where did you get it? I mean, who gave it to you?” But then you realize that, given the setting and Francesca’s Pollyanna disposition, that’s perhaps the film’s most realistic line.
Meanwhile, everyone Ricky and Robby meet assumes they’re a couple (the script has a particular fixation on Robby’s good looks, which are repeatedly discussed). Their characters are little more than tokens, with only these details serving as dimensions: Ricky wants to be a fashion designer and is waiting to hear whether she’s been accepted by a New York school, and Robby is supposedly a skirt-chaser, though this is mentioned once in the first scene and then forgotten.
It’s pretty obvious where this is going—unfortunately, just because the female lead is transgender doesn’t mean that the film escapes rom-com tropes. Will Pollyanna give in to her attraction? Will Ricky and Robby ever become a couple? And how is it that Robby knows the dickface Marine but Ricky, his lifelong shadow, doesn’t?
Despite its overall amateur feel, Boy Meets Girl is decently acted and inarguably pioneering, with Hendley, an actual trans-woman instead of a dude in drag, an especially pleasant surprise: She’s not about to win any Oscars yet, but considering she’d never played so much as “3rd Angel From the Right” in kindergarten, her performance is impressive. (Schaeffer discovered her on YouTube, admitting that he had to turn to Google to find a transgender actress.) There are a few more head-scratching moments before the film ends, as when Robby yells at Ricky, “You leave bodies in your wake!” which seems to be from another script.
But Schaeffer adds a sweet it-gets-better-esque message before things wrap, framing the film with a seven-year-old video a dour-faced Ricky made about her mother’s reaction to her gender identity. It’s one bow-tied happy ending you’ll gladly excuse.
In Mary Dore’s documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, author and early feminist activist Alix Kates Shulman recalls the defeatist outlook that swallowed her back in the 1960s, when she was married with two children under the age of 5: “I felt finished.”
Shulman had gone to graduate school, but it didn’t matter; a woman’s ultimate goal, society said, was to marry and procreate. Shulman didn’t buy that—so she stopped making casseroles and joined the Women’s Liberation Movement, then in its infancy.
Dore’s film chronicles the feminist movement from 1966 to 1971, as it not only grew but inspired black and gay women—who also supported women’s lib, but had different battles to fight—to organize, too.
She’s Beautiful opens with a recent Austin rally for women’s health care—Texas having banned abortion past the 20th week of pregnancy, with red tape so complicated many providers stopped performing all abortions—where one protester’s sign read, “If men could get pregnant, birth control pills would be available in gumball machines.”
It’s at once funny and infuriating. But viewers who weren’t around 50 years ago to witness the attitudes women were up against will get a lot angrier as the film goes on. Said a broadcaster on the day of the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality: “If your secretary won’t do the filing and your wife won’t cook, don’t blame them: Remember, you gave them the vote 50 years ago.” Fury.
When lesbians—who Betty Friedan first ignored, then threw out of the National Organization for Women, thinking their presence deterred progress—brought attention to their rights (and very existence) by banding together under the name “The Lavender Menace,” one male speaker at a meeting said, “Maybe some girls here today will become lesbian. They could be doctors, lawyers—we don’t know!” More fury.
Dore follows the documentary formula pretty predictably, including commentary from leaders of the movements (Jacqui Ceballos, Rita Mae Brown, and a familiar face for District residents, Eleanor Holmes Norton), the literature that fueled it (The Feminine Mystique; Our Bodies, Ourselves), and footage of anonymous opponents. In one fresh touch, Dore intercuts video of the participants speaking at various events as their younger selves with their more recent interviews for the film.
It’s 2015, so there’s not much need for counterbalance to make She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry more objective—it’s 92 minutes of rah-rah. Yet, incredibly, many of the issues the film broaches still need that fight. Today’s women don’t receive equal pay for equal work. Being aggressive in the business world doesn’t mean you’re ambitious, it means you’re a bitch. You’re damned if you decide to stay home with the kids and damned if you want to—or, often, have to—work full time.
Abortion remains a divisive issue and slut-shaming is alive and well, with women taking some of the blame in cases of sexual assault—in a most extreme example, when University of Virginia leaders forbade sorority members from going out on the night fraternities initiate new members.
When did this happen? Oh, a couple of weeks ago. You know, for the women’s safety. If the boys aren’t tempted, the boys won’t rape.
The most furious you can imagine.
Boy Meets Girl opens at Angelika Pop-Up on Feb. 13.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry opens Feb. 13 at E Street Cinema.