My review of Eric Schaeffer’s “Boy Meets Girl,” with Michael Welch & Michelle Hendley

On Saturday, May 10, 2014 I attended the Southeast Premiere of writer/director Eric Schaeffer's Boy Meets Girl at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The sold out screening took place at the historic Miami Beach Cinematheque.

Robby (Michael Welch) and Ricky (Michelle Hendley) are early twenty-somethings who've been best friends since childhood. He's a man's man, with a frisky eye on every hot lady who passes by. She happens to be one herself but, being more like a sister to him, it's strictly hands off in the carnal department. There is one catch, though. Ricky was born a boy -- now a pre-op transgendered woman -- enduring all the added emotional and physical pain that a kid in that position would be expected to face in a stereotypical small town (in Kentucky, in this case). Enter young Southern belle Francesca, engaged to a Marine fighting in Afghanistan, who is oddly drawn to Ricky, and vice-versa. The ensuing interweaving of storylines, deftly balancing complex characters filled with fear and curiosity, is Schaeffer's masterstroke.

This is Schaeffer's ninth feature in the director's chair. While he wrote, directed, and produced Boy Meets Girl, he's an accomplished actor, as well, with 100 television episodes to his credit along with over 15 shorts and features.

The film's tight creative team worked in lockstep with Schaeffer to bring this brilliantly multilayered story to life as simply as possible, with clarity and economy, both in cost as well as footage. Production values are surprisingly high, despite the modest budget, owing much to the filmmakers' reliance on the barebone basics of storytelling along with decades of dollar-stretching experience. Boy Meets Girl's character-driven plot, with its emphasis on incisive dialogue and nuanced body language, doesn't demand dazzling camerawork or fancy visual effects.     

Cinematographers Violetta D'Agata and Andrew Ravani have worked on a combined 35 short films -- this is her first feature and his second. Their minimalist style is appropriately understated and intimate, with the focus on the delicacy of the relationships through the use of handheld closeups and unobtrusive stationary shots. The movie's sharp look is characterized by a bright, primary color palette and warm interior lighting. Exterior shots are awash with diffused sunlight, as if the characters are lit by an angelic glow from within. 

Veteran editor Frank Reynolds has cut over 55 shorts and features, including one of the most honored pictures of the past two decades, In the Bedroom (2001). That film earned over 90 awards and nominations. Among them were five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. His experience shows as not a frame is wasted here. There's no fluff, no filler, just what's necessary to further the story at a moderately deliberate pace. Boy Meets Girl is scored with a gentle touch, featuring a sparse soundtrack of sweet, playful tunes meant only to punctuate the seminal moments.  

But what makes Boy Meets Girl so heartwarming, humorous, and, yes, hot, is the authenticity of the not-always-so-delicate dance between Welch and Hendley as lifelong pals looking for love (in all the wrong places?). As Francesca and her fiancé David, Alexandra Turshen and Michael Galante supply heavy (and, occasionally, much-needed) doses of reality in the otherwise fairy tale world within which Robby and Ricky reside. How Schaeffer juggles the parallel relationships -- and murky, mysterious history -- of these four characters is what makes Boy Meets Girl so compelling, at once awkwardly uncomfortable, then supremely satisfying, yet never predictable.

Michael Welch has certainly had quite a long and distinguished career at the age of 26 -- working on 35 feature films since the age of 10, along with several TV movies and close to 100 television episodes. He came to prominence as uber-nerd Luke Girardi on CBS' Joan of Arcadia, and portrayed hapless human Mike Newton in four parts of The Twilight Saga. Together, those four titles brought in over $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office. What a casting coup this was. His commitment to playing the enigmatic male lead in Boy Meets Girl is a testament to his passion for the material and desire to bring the rich character of Robby to life, with all its color and complexity.

Casting an actual transgendered actor in the pivotal role of Ricky was a risky and bold move, especially in an industry landscape filled with award-winning portrayals of similar characters where such a casting decision was not necessarly a priority (Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club). There aren't many out there to begin with, and Schaeffer scored in finding the lovely and talented Michelle Handley after an extensive search.      

Despite this (and not to take a thing away from Huffman's and Leto's performances), controversy is sure to follow Boy Meets Girl. While some may rejoice, others may ask, "Why insist on a trans actor?" There will be the inevitable debate over terminology and distinction between pre-op and post-op transgendered individuals. Some will argue over the way in which gender identity and sexual identity are distinguished from each other (or not) -- are they one and the same, separate, or even connected in any way? Does it even matter?

Ironically (or, perhaps, intentionally), all these issues are dealt with in the script itself, which should give Schaeffer a pass, to some extent. After all, the characters themselves are having these very discussions, and the viewer is likely to identify with at least one of these young folks (and/or the parents, as well) and their confusion. And that's what makes Boy Meets Girl so universally appealing. There's no cinematic hammer hitting the audience over the head here. As gravitas-filled as it is, the script asks more questions than it answers. How the viewer perceives the actors' statements depends on what one brings to the table. In this way, Eric Schaeffer has created a uniquely personal work that transcends anything in the genre. Some of the issues touched upon in Boy Meets Girl have been explored onscreen before but not all at once, not this boldly, and certainly not this enjoyably.

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NOTE: I selected Boy Meets Girl as my Top Pick of the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It was produced by Edward Aitken, Bruce Edward, and Elisa Pugliese, along with writer/director Eric Schaeffer The filmmakers are awaiting a distribution deal.