One of two films at TIFF to feature central characters that are transgender (and played by cisgender actors), About Ray isn’t as much so much, instead focusing more on the family around him.
Elle Fanning is the titular teen, a boy in a girl’s body on the verge of beginning hormonal transformation, which will be paired with a new start at a public school. He has by his side three women who possess varying degrees of support: his mother Maggie (Naomi Watts), proud if not concerned; his grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon), more flippant; and Dolly’s partner Honey, the least meddling.
Gaby Dellal directs a script she co-wrote with Nikole Beckwith that is ever so carefully-crafted, too nice and easy, and only briefly unsettling. Ray, formerly Ramona, uses a public unisex bathroom at a nearby restaurant in lieu of one at school. Elsewhere, as if to represent the plight of many, some bully accosts Ray, but even this moment is experienced mostly after the fact.
The film constantly turns back to Ray’s mother when things get too uncomfortable (for general audiences). Ray requires a signature from his absent father to undergo treatment, which leads to a series of confrontations. While powerfully dramatic, it also runs adrift with frivolous tangents.
Regrettably, About Ray is a missed opportunity, a palatable and ginger introduction to a transgender issues. Succumbing to unnecessary dramatic turns, almost by design it seems, the focus is removed from its most important character, one unfortunately rarely seen on screen.
Saturday Sept. 12th 3:30PM at the Princess of Wales Theatre
Sunday Sept 13th 11:15AM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox #1