A light approach makes it accessible but does mean that the best bits are left till the end
Gavin is a power tool designer from the north of England. In his spare time though he enjoys slipping into his female personae of Leah. He is straight and has a girlfriend that appreciates both side of his personality. He keeps it secret from everyone else around him but he has decided to enter this year's international beauty pageant in Thailand. As he prepares for the pageant (in which he will be very much the only entrant not living as a full time woman) the film follows his journey but also that of Darlene, Miss Egypt as well.
Although there is an element of exploitation in this film, it is a genuinely engaging and rather touching film that uses the pageant as a backdrop to the characters involved. The show itself is a curio and it is weird to see so many transvestites looking so very feminine and natural here. However the film is best when it is focusing on the two central people in the story, the one most to the fore being Gavin. Gavin ia strange find as this is not so much a lifestyle but a hobby that he enjoys. He does it in the evenings and enjoys it without it becoming who he is across every waking minute. His experiences are engaging as a way in but the real killer blow in the film comes in the form of Darlene.
Criminally given far, far less screen time, Darlene is a pre-op who has had some surgery, facial work and takes hormones. She also lives full time as a woman and is a sex worker in Australia. She is very different from Gavin/Leah in these ways and it is because of these differences that she ends up being the person you remember. The reason for this is the way that her hurt pours out at the end of the film. I won't cheapen it by trying to paraphrase what she says but it is haunting how she longs for just the basic acceptance of her mother it is such a heartfelt and genuinely emotional moment that it caught me quite off guard and reminded me that for some this was not just a hobby that was done behind doors but a life choice.
This is not to say I understand the reasons for her being the way she is but just that no matter what someone does with their life, it is important to remember they are a person. The film hits this very well and it is just a shame that it spends so little time with her as opposed to Gavin, who is more our way in than anything else. Wells directs well and interacts with Leah and Darlene well he draws personal moments out from both and this is particularly impressive when you remember that Gavin is talking on camera the whole time but had not at this point revealed his hobby to anyone other than Sue.
A bit of a curio piece and perhaps does fit in with the quirkumentary genre but the light approach pays off near the end when we are rewarded with some really searing personal moments, that stuck in my memory for quite a while.
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