Different for Girls
1998, NR, 101 min. Directed by Richard Spence. Starring Steven Mackintosh, Rupert Graves, Miriam Margolyes, Saskia Reeves, Charlotte Coleman, Neil Dudgeon.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 17, 1997
Boys will be boys, unless sometimes they are girls. That's what Paul Prentice (Graves) discovers when a fender-bender reunites him with one of his old schoolmates, a woman named Kim Foyle who, 16 years ago, was a boy named Karl. A flashback to their school years shows the effeminate Karl naked in the shower room as he's being victimized by gay-bashing bullies and is subsequently rescued by tough kid Paul. Paul recognizes instantly who Kim is and becomes increasingly obsessed with getting to know this post-operative transsexual better, even though Kim is wary of his overtures. Kim, more than anything now, wants to quietly fit in. Her conservative attire exaggerates her still mannish appearance, causing casual passersby to assume that she's a transvestite rather than an “anatomically correct” female. From the title on down, we're led to believe that Different for Girls is a story in which Kim and her journey is the central focus. But it turns out that the movie's real focus of interest is Paul and his conflicted relationship with Kim, even though the film does not always seem quite aware that this is the case -- which, consequently, leads to a lot of unfocused storytelling and narrative cul-de-sacs. Paul is attracted to Kim but reluctant to admit it and the same clearly held true in regard to his feelings for Karl. He alternates between tentative courtship and rude rejection. He seems bothered by the idea that Kim might be gay; he seems equally bothered by the thought that she might be straight. Kim, for her part, also seems attracted to Paul, though there is nothing to explain why these two temperamental opposites attract. Then, midway through, the scattered focus of Different for Girls becomes sidetracked by two narrative tangents: a development in Kim's sister's marriage that's meant to parallel the main drama, and a court case that's the tangled result of Kim and Paul's emotional sparring. Outstanding performances help this provocative British drama seem to tally up to something that is greater than its individual parts. But parts alone do not a solid movie make.