Filmmaker Kimberly Reed returns home for her high school reunion, ready to reintroduce herself to the small town as a transgender woman and hoping for reconciliation with her long estranged... See full summary »
Filmmaker Kimberly Reed returns home for her high school reunion, ready to reintroduce herself to the small town as a transgender woman and hoping for reconciliation with her long estranged adopted brother Marc. Things are complicated by the shocking revelation that Marc may be the grandson of Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth, forcing Kim and her family to explore questions of sexual orientation, identity, severe trauma and love. Written by
Kimberly Reed was understandably nervous about coming home to her small Montana town. She had grown up as Paul McKerrow: high school quarterback, popular scholar, handsome and well-respected male. She then left this life behind to realize her identity as female, and was now returning for a class reunion--the first time her childhood friends would know her as a woman. Armed with a camera, supported by her girlfriend, and braced for an onslaught of transphobia, Reed plunged in.
And then nothing really happened. A few explanations were in order for a few bemused guests, but the vast majority of Reed's small town Montana classmates were perfectly cordial and accepting. Thus begins Reed's 2008 documentary Prodigal Sons.
Although Reed's homecoming is disappointingly lacking in narrative interest, Reed finds plenty of documentable conflict in her estranged brother Marc, who lost part of his brain in a car crash and is now mentally unstable. Reed films herself asking Marc for fashion advice and alternately encouraging/discouraging Marc's childhood reminiscence; Marc is seen trying to be accommodating in spite of his obvious discomfort. Until his mood swings hit and he becomes a total jackass--though even then, he's more concerned with Kim's high school adoration than her status as a woman.
So goes the film: Kimberly either expects or invites opposition to her gender and receives none; Marc deals with a crippling mental disorder, alienates everybody, and plunges into paranoia and despair. While both stories are compelling in their own right, they do not compliment each other. Reed's primary misstep is to give her own story as much weight as Marc's: I have no doubt that Reed has overcome a great deal of hardship in her transition, but her struggle is told rather than shown. What is shown is a sad, jealous man losing his mind--the plight of stable, well-adjusted, transsexual Reed seems terribly bourgeois in comparison.
Ultimately, this particular work of transgender cinema would be quite a bit more effective if it were a little bit less concerned with its status as such. Reed obviously hoped for a reconciliatory homecoming story--see title--but what she got was the sad deterioration of her still-jealous-about-high-school brother. If she'd had the discipline to tell his story rather than hers, she'd have a better film for it. -TK 10/23/10
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