When I started writing these reviews, I didn’t think I cared too much about plot. After all, there is so much more that makes a film good: acting, casting choices, camerawork, colour grading, lighting, editing… I could go on and on. Ultimately though, storytelling sits at the core of cinema. And, as I’ve seen now in a good few films, one glaring narrative choice can tarnish your whole experience of an otherwise objectively good film. Unfortunately, Boy Meets Girl is one of those cases.
Boy Meets Girl (Eric Schaeffer, 2014) starts out with such promise. 20-something Ricky is a trans girl living in Kentucky looking for love. Limited by her small town, her two options as presented in the narrative are as follows: Robbie, her childhood best friend; and Francesca, a new friend from town who’s just got engaged to a Marine who’s away fighting in Afghanistan. (No spoilers just yet, but I know who I’d choose.)
Early on, this film made some great choices. The original budget was crowdfunded, and I can see from the campaign why it was successful: it has a compelling queer concept and a strong female lead played by a trans woman. From the off, I was hooked. Sadly, by the end, I honestly couldn’t care less. But we’ll get to that later.
The Mechanics of Storytelling
If we’re being completely honest, there is quite a bit of clumsy writing and acting in Boy Meets Girl. In the first thirty seconds of dialogue between Ricky and Robbie, there is some very obvious platforming, shoving the key plot points in our faces before we have a chance to blink. Ricky is looking for love, hasn’t found the right guy, and is considering her sexuality. I wonder where this could possibly go next!
Look, I’m all for establishing a storyline, but a little subtlety would have been nice.
Opening scene included, some of the dialogue comes across as awkward. Characters laugh loudly at things that aren’t funny; the actors seem nervous at the prospect of pretending to have a good time. Artistic license is taken a little too far at times: for example, I know it’s a small town, but does no one else besides the three main characters ever come into this coffee shop? And why is Ricky the only one ever on-shift? Towards the end of the film, Ricky goes for a nighttime dip and is meant to be having a deep conversation, but I just absolutely could not take Michelle Hendley seriously with that terrible fake swimming.
On the other side of the same coin is some cliched but welcome storytelling. The set-up of the love triangle, though not-so-subtly implied by a myriad of hints running up, is solid; at the very least, it provides a stable plot to follow. Key side plots, like Ricky wanting to get into a fashion school in NYC, can be a little laboured, but this one ends up turning out not-quite-exactly as everyone expects. (Although, if you pause on the shot of the letter, it’s actually just the same two sentences written over and over again. Eric, babes, did you think we wouldn’t notice?)
Contextually, the film has a few specific pointers which place it sharply in the early 2010s. Aside from the surprise YouTuber cameo by Grace Helbig in her “Daily Grace” era (yes really), most notable is an all-too-often-returning clip of tween-age Ricky holding up notes on paper for a self-recorded video about her mum dying. The fringe and heavy eyeliner only add to the effect: she’s in her emo phase; Ricky Jones, the original trans e-girl. In the kindest possible way: Ricky, sweetie, this is not the serve you think it is. Later on, we see that the video file was inside the only folder on her desktop (labelled “mom”, no less). A little more attention to detail would have been nice.
Presentations of Queerness
As is the case with most movies featuring queer women, the lesbian scenes are the highlight of Boy Meets Girl. Ricky and Francesca start off as gal pals, quickly getting closer and closer. When they eventually kiss, they ask for consent and discuss their feelings beforehand; later, when they have sex, they discuss protection, roles, experience. There is no music in intimate scenes between them until they get fully into it, soundtrack kicking in when it’s clear they’re comfortable with one another. Neither of them have been with girls before, and the struggle is visible: Francesca screws up her face slightly during their first kiss in a mixture of passion and restraint.
Biggest Gay Mood: having lesbian sex with a girl whose fiancé is away fighting a war in Afghanistan
After the act, Francesca asks if having had sex with Ricky makes her gay. Ricky says no, and I see why: she’s vulnerable at that moment and doesn’t want to put Francesca off or scare her away. Ricky may also be concerned for her own safety if Francesca’s reaction were to turn sour ー as a trans woman (in a small, conservative town, no less) this is something Ricky would probably be attuned to. Of course, having sex with one woman doesn’t automatically make Francesca gay (though you could pretty comfortably say bi), but it definitely doesn’t make her straight either.
(To clarify: To suggest that Francesca is still straight after having had sex with Ricky is rooted in transphobia: this implies that Ricky is not a “real woman” because she’s trans. More on this soon.)
In this small, rural town, we find unexpected allyship. Francesca as the clueless Southern belle is clumsy and inexperienced but still caring. She immediately sticks up for Ricky when her fiance David disses her. Francesca’s dad is supportive to the point of strangling a transphobic marine at his own senatorial rally. This could be seen as an astute political move in some places today, but certainly not in that town at that time.
Having said this, Ricky doesn’t seem like she needs the support: she’s impressively resilient, with some solid clapbacks to boot. “Didn’t your father just die?” is a pretty good way to deal with transphobic bullying. On the other hand, she has a kinder heart than you might expect her to, occasionally to her own detriment. She misplaces forgiveness on those who’ve wronged her. At the same time, I understand it: it’s hard to know where to place trust and lust as a trans person because the people who call you slurs also tend to be the ones who want to sleep with you.
(We’re getting dangerously close to major spoilers now, so look away now if you don’t want to know any big plot twists.)
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
Top Tip: Avoid this film if you don’t want to hear a lot of slurs. Also, maybe just avoid it anyway.
I’m not against addressing problematic characters on-screen, but Boy Meets Girl is a bit of a minefield in this regard. Francesca’s boyfriend is hot on Skype for about five seconds ー until he calls her his “virgin angel” (Big ew! Also, spoiler alert, even if she was waiting for marriage, she won’t be for long, babe.) He’s straight-up a terrible person too, and deeply transphobic; disappointingly, she puts up with it. (You get the sense that this isn’t the first shitty thing he’s done that she’s had to put up with.) You root for her to cheat on him pretty much as soon as he appears on screen, and I do love that.
Naturally, it turns out David is a chaser. I’m kind of mad at myself for not seeing that coming. He seems super conflicted about this, but he honestly needs to just ask Francesca to peg him and then he’ll be fine.
Some of the discussions around trans identity seem outdated, even for the early 2010s. Robbie also mansplains gender roles in sex to Ricky at one point, which is deeply uncomfortable ー especially once you know that the narrative doesn’t punish him for this. Robbie doesn’t see Ricky as a girl and that is the problem at the core of their relationship; conversely, Francesca does see her as a girl and that’s why they could have worked.
This brings us to the fundamental flaw at the narrative’s core: the final couplings are Ricky with Robbie, and David with Francesca (still). In one fell swoop, Shaeffer manages to make a choice that is transphobic, lesbophoic and misogynistic.
Britney Line Time: “Don’t you know that you’re toxic? Don’t you know that you’re toxic?”
First off, some background: Ricky first gets together with Robbie after they’ve had a pretty brutal argument. This shot of them making out, where he is fully clothed and she is just fully naked (post-bad fake swimming we saw earlier), sums up their power dynamic pretty well.
Ricky ends up settling with someone who treated her badly and doesn’t fundamentally see her as a woman. In addition, Ricky was just an experiment for Francesca; a fetish, even.
In fact, both girls end up acting like their relationship was an experiment: they learn from each other and take this growth to their heterosexual relationships with men afterwards. Hell, Ricky even sings a line from I Kissed A Girl in bed with Francesca, an anthem for queerbaited women everywhere. Robbie and David end the film in better places than where they started, despite both acting like terrible people throughout. Female characters are used for the growth of men.
Even from a non-gendered perspective, there isn’t enough worldbuilding around the relationships we are supposed to root for. We barely see Francesca and David together, and when we do, they’re fighting. Ricky and Robbie seem like quite good friends, but that’s only because they keep mentioning in the script how they’ve been best friends forever. Their romantic chemistry is tense at best.
Overall, this film felt like a wasted opportunity. Two problematic straight couples as endgame when we were sold lesbians in the trailer makes Boy Meets Girl a hard sell.