Friday Film Review: Different for Girls
Genre: Romantic dramedy
Frankly, I’d forgotten I had this movie in my Netflix queue until I noticed that it was due to be taken off the streaming option. With a viewing deadline looming, I first pulled up the information to refresh my memory of why I’d decided to save it to my queue and then clicked “play.” Before I begin the main part of the review, first let me apologize in advance for any terminology, descriptions or definitions I use incorrectly. Gentle corrections are welcome.
Karl Foyle and Paul Prentice were mates back in school with Prentice often rescuing Karl from the taunting of their teenage peers. In the intervening years, they’ve gone separate ways and lost touch. One afternoon when Prentice (Rupert Graves) is out making a courier delivery through the streets of London on his motorcycle, a taxi collides with him. The passenger seems familiar to Prentice who gropes through his memory trying to place the young woman. Following up on her, he’s stunned when she finally admits that yes, they do know each other. Karl has now become Kim (Steven Mackintosh) who is post M2F sex reassignment surgery.
Despite her initial lack of enthusiasm to catch up with her former schoolmate, Kim eventually agrees to meet with Prentice for a drink but the meeting, due to Prentice’s growing discomfort with the situation, goes badly. Unable to deny his fascination with Kim, Prentice perseveres even buying a book about transgender issues to better understand her. They begin to explore a tentative friendship which leads to a dinner at her flat during which her explanations of the surgery and the changes to her body throw Prentice back into confusion. My God, he’s getting a boner for a former schoolmate. Resorting to his usual in-your-face style of acting out, he finds himself arrested for public disorderliness with Kim hauled along when she tries to intervene with the Met officers.
With his job on the line and needing Kim to testify for him against the charges of the police, will she risk facing public scrutiny of the new life she’s so carefully constructed? And even if she does, is there any romantic future with a man so totally opposite of her?
Despite the obvious hook of the movie, it uses lot of conventional romantic dramedy tropes. Kim and Prentice are opposites – she’s almost fussy while he’s rowdy, he pushes the relationship then just as quickly backs off, he’s got a girlfriend and isn’t sure which woman he wants to be with, and then there’s some background drama with family issues. But it’s also upfront about the challenges which Kim in her new life.
She is fussy and, as she tells Prentice, she likes her things “just so.” At first she almost came off as a person who just might be able to suck a seat cushion up her arse, she’s so rigid and puckered. Then as the film progressed I came up with three good reasons for her to be this way. First – she might be a fussy person by nature. Second – she mentions to Prentice that during the second required meeting she had with a psychiatrist, during which she wore blue jeans, the doctor told her that her attire must mean “she wasn’t serious [about pursuing the gender reassignment surgery].” The risk of not getting something I so desperately desired would probably be enough to scare me into ultra-feminine behavior for a while too. And third – Kim will probably always be faced with “proving” her gender to the world as shown during the scenes when she’s in police custody, without her legal i.d. and being subtly threatened with being put in a holding cell with men. We also see her worries that having her story come out in public could affect her job or cause her coworkers to react to her differently. She’s bluntly, but tactfully, honest with Prentice about the details of the surgery and the hormones she has to take daily.
Steven Mackintosh was a revelation to me in this role. Previously I’d seen him as a drug dealer in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” a thuggish crime lord in “Prime Suspect,” and Sebastian in “Twelfth Night.” Here he’s not a perfect looking woman but he’s certainly not bad considering that he didn’t have the benefit of the hormones a real M2F would probably take. It appears that he practiced his gestures, movements and walking style and while he might come across as too prissy, see the previous paragraph for reasons his character might behave this way. Rupert Graves is the quintessential “bad boy” complete with wearing his “leathers” while riding his bike. But from the flashback to their school days, we can see the considerate person beneath this swagger who might appeal to Kim despite the outward differences between them as adults. Graves manages to make Prentice still appealing as he wrestles with his feelings and confusion about the situation with his old mate.
Where the film falters for me is in the subplots of Prentice’s relationship with his girlfriend – who conveniently appears and then disappears, and the heavy handed way that the characters of Kim’s sister and infertile brother-in-law convey the point that the ability to reproduce doesn’t define a real man any more than the lack of reproductive ability negates a woman’s femininity. The ending is left vague and unfinished as to the future relationship between Prentice and Kim. It looks fine for now but will Prentice truly revert back to the more sensitive person he used to be or if not, will his machismo eventually wear on Kim’s nerves? A brief scene seems to indicate that being “outed” hasn’t affected Kim’s job but from what little I’ve read, this seems more of a wishful fairy tale than a reflection of what many transgender people experience.
A slightly treacle ending and “Vaseline on the lens of reality” finale might be enough for people to write this one off but I think that might be a mistake. No, it’s not perfect and it could have delved deeper into the actual romantic relationship between Kim and Prentice but maybe that’s for a future movie which could build on the groundwork laid by this one. If you want to see it, it can be rented or purchased at Amazon or you can watch it in 10 parts on youtube.