January 30, 2018 at 12:46 pm PST | by David Ehrenstein
‘Just Charlie’ is just terrific

‘Just Charlie’ is one of most moving and insightful films about the trans experience ever made. (Photo courtesy Seahorse Films Ltd)

“It’s not me they’re talking to. They’re talking to a stranger.” So says Charlie, a teenage soccer star and the most popular boy in his high school. What “they” don’t know is that Charlie is transgender. And even as everything in his life is coming together, what his doctors call “Gender Dysphoria” dominates a private world.

Written by Peter Machen, directed by Rebekah Fortune and starring brilliant young actor Harry Gilby in the title role, “Just Charlie” is one of most moving and insightful films about the trans experience ever made. Eschewing melodrama or sensationalism, it’s a simply stated — albeit emotional — complex story of a British youth discovering herself and the problem this creates for his otherwise loving father (Scott Williams).

When Dad discovers Charlie putting on makeup and donning women’s attire he thinks, at first, it means his ‘son’ is gay. But, as the situation is fully explained to him, his confusion and anxiety overwhelm him. Charlie had been Dad’s pride but now “who is this boy-turned-girl?” he wonders. Father and child coming to terms with one another is the heart of this refreshingly direct and honest story.

We’ve come a very long way since Christine Jorgensen was the only transgender woman the “general public” had any awareness of. In 1970 “The Christine Jorgensen Story,” solemnly directed by Irving Rapper with a stolid John Hansen as Christine, the film did not play in wide release. It played chiefly in “Grind Houses” as did “I Want What I Want” (1972), a transploitation film starring the lovely but miscast Anne Heywood as the hero/heroine. Hollywood’s slow journey out on trans subject matter included “Myra Breckinridge” (1970), Mike Sarne’s misbegotten yet fascinating rendition of Gore Vidal’s classic satire with Rex Reed and Raquel Welch, plus the great Mae West (whom many believe was transgender) in a supporting and comic role.

With such stories being financially unrewarding (not to mention artistically risky), it’s no wonder it took decades for a major film like 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry” to find a backer. Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance was a cinematic turning point for trans characters and storylines.

The documentary “The Brandon Teena Story” (1998) focused on the violence committed against transgender people.

With trans celebrity offspring such as Chaz Bono (Sonny and Cher’s son) and Stephen Ira Beatty (Warren Beatty and Annette Bening’s first child), the emergence of trans actresses like Laverne Cox and Daniela Vega (“Fantastic Woman”), Hollywood has warmed up to trans actors. More works of trans interest are sure to come, though whether they will be as sensitive and insightful as “Just Charlie” remains to be seen.

The most important transgender figure in history has had many films made about him: Jean D’Arc aka Jeanne D’Arc aka “Joan of Arc.” Because he wore men’s clothes he was burned at the stake. Films about him are many and notable.

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928), Robert Bresson’s “The Trial of Joan of Arc” (1963), Otto Preminger’s “Saint Joan” (1957) and Jacques Rivette’s two-par “Joan La Pucelle — Les Batailles” (1994) Joan La Pucelle — Les Prisons (1994). And that’s not to mention actresses as varied in stature as Ingrid Bergman (who played her twice, including once for Roberto Rossellini) and Mila Jovovich (in Luc Besson’s monstrosity “The Messenger”) have played her.

Is there someone out there with a fully trans Jean D’Arc script? We’d all love to see it.

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