CREDIT: Netflix

Starring: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Katelijne Damen, Valentijn Dhaenens

Director: Lukas Dhont

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for Fairly Graphically Portrayed Self-Harm

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Streaming on Netflix)

It’s been a bit of a contentious trip for Girl from the festival circuit to Netflix. It received a lot of positive notices, including a handful of awards at Cannes, but then it was met with a backlash from trans and queer writers, who objected to the story of a transgender teenage girl directed by a cis man (Lukas Dhont) and starring a cis teen boy (Victor Polster) in the lead role. As a cis straight man myself, I cannot offer first-hand experience regarding Girl‘s accuracy, but as a devoted film viewer, let me say these two things. First of all, film is a collaborative medium, and in the best cases, voices besides the director’s and the lead actor’s also play major parts in a film’s message. And second of all, no single critic’s pronunciation about any film should be viewed as gospel. If you are someone who cares enough about cinema to read reviews, then I encourage you to follow a variety of critics with diverse opinions and diverse backgrounds, and also to think deeply yourself about the movies that you watch. No two people see the same movie the exact same way, and we can benefit by discovering from someone else what we might have missed otherwise.

The ire that often forms around trans stories is partly due to their relative scarcity, making each single one unduly representative of all trans stories. This particular story is that of Lara, whose life revolves around ballet and hormone replacement therapy in preparation for sex reassignment surgery. It was inspired by the life of Nora Monsecour, a Belgian dancer and trans woman. It is worth noting that Monsecour served as a consultant and has defended Polster’s casting. When Girl is judged on the merits of this one particular story and not how it fits within trans narratives as a whole, I think it works empathetically. Its scenes of self-mutilation are rough to watch, but they do not strike me as dangerous, because the message behind them is rather ambiguous (beyond conveying Lara’s impatience). Ultimately, this is a movie that is not as contentious as the discourse surrounding it. Fundamentally, it is a story about a supportive family trying to get by in this crazy world, just like the rest of us. On that score, it is fairly compelling on an emotional level, though not exactly groundbreaking.

Grade: 3 out of 5 Puberty Blockers