“Boy Meets Girl” (2014)
by A.J. Hakari
When concerns of the heart are on the line, there’s no such thing as “normal.” Contrary to what one force or another has been dictating for eons, there is no formula for a happy ending, no guidelines to explain how or why we develop such deep affection towards those we do. That cinema has by and large shied away from depicting the complicated path romance can be (especially in this day and age) is truly disheartening, and it’s for this reason — if no other — that I’m grateful something like Boy Meets Girl has come to pick up the slack. Not only does the film display great bravery in incorporating such seldom-addressed themes as gender identity and sexual orientation, it does so with a sense of positivity. Boy Meets Girl‘s characters encounter unusual challenges but aren’t defined by them, with the movie regarding its players like anyone else in a love story with woes to work through. Unfortunately, a great attitude is just about all this picture has to go on, as a stilted screenplay and a few too many broad performances end up holding this back from being the bold game-changer it falls agonizingly short of becoming.
Ricky (Michelle Hendley) is a small-town girl with big dreams. Though she has the company and steadfast support of her sarcastic best friend Robby (Michael Welch), she still yearns to flee from her rural confines, further her dreams of becoming a clothes designer, and settle down into a serious relationship. The lack of suitable suitors in her hometown has made that last part a tad tricky for Ricky, but there’s something else that makes a girl in her situation unique. Ricky is a transgender woman, born male but having figured out the person she was meant to be early on in her life. But just as she’s begun lamenting the shortage of good guys in her area, into her workplace walks Francesca (Alexandra Turshen) to throw things for a bigger loop still. A local rich girl, Francesca instantly strikes up a friendship with Ricky, one that evolves into something more even after the latter reveals her background. But as the two explore their respective strange new feelings, there are obstacles lurking on the horizon that threaten to drive a wedge in their budding romance, from Francesca’s bigoted Marine fiancé (Michael Galante) to Robby’s own unrequited crush on his best pal.
What struck me first and foremost about Boy Meets Girl was its optimism. Although we’re given glimpses into Ricky’s struggles over coming to terms with her identity, the bulk of the story takes place long after she’s become confident with who she is. Even the most well-intentioned narratives would likely depict her awakening as a living hell, so it’s a relief to see not only our protagonist so at ease with herself but those around her, to boot. Only one major character harbors any legitimate hostility towards Ricky, and even then, it’s for personal reasons that are touched upon as the flick approaches its climax. It’s this accepting, non-judgmental demeanor that helps Boy Meets Girl come across as a more interesting picture in the end, as it treats Ricky just like any other lovelorn heroine who’s ever tried to figure out which end is up. First-time actress Hendley does a terrific job of balancing out her role with equal parts vulnerability and self-assurance, making sure we see the wounded soul who’s behind her quips and comebacks. In short, Ricky is a very well-rounded character, and because writer/director Eric Shaeffer (If Lucy Fell) doesn’t position her sexuality as something to pity or gawk at, the audience is more apt to hitch a ride and follow along on her crazy journey.
How disappointing it is, then, to do so, only to find that Hendley and the part she plays are among the few aspects of Boy Meets Girl that feel genuine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that Schaeffer only had the utmost respect for the story and nailed the welcoming tone he was aiming for, but that doesn’t stop the dialogue from coming off as forced and created solely so that he might further his points, rather than sound like actual conversations people would have. While the frank discussions about sex that Ricky and Robby engage in are intended to be as awkward as they are revelatory, Boy Meets Girl excels in the former while leaving the latter in the dust, with the lion’s share of the lines bearing all the signs of a writer who let their enthusiasm towards exploring a fresh subject get in the way of crafting speech that seems authentic to the ears. Not helping matters is the proclivity of certain performers to hurl themselves into their roles with full-on Southern belle accents, as some of the picture’s most tender and emotional moments are nearly ruined by actors whose cartoonish turns don’t jibe with the understanding vibe Schaeffer establishes. Thankfully, this doesn’t really apply to the principal cast; again, Hendley is terrific, Turshen overcomes a few off notes to find the heart in her character, and Welch does a fine job of not overselling the “best friend who obviously has a thing for the main girl” archetype.
I can’t say that Boy Meets Girl was a success, but I sure am glad it got made. For all the congratulations Hollywood tends to (often literally) award itself for paying fleeting attention to a “serious” story that’s not meant to rake in a $100 million opening weekend, that one film did so and at least made an effort to treat its characters like actual people was refreshing to see. While the final product might be riddled with the sort of moments a good rewrite or two could wash away, Boy Meets Girl will — with any luck — turn heads and help more flicks that share its modern mindset reach the public eye.