BFI Flare: They — a film haunted by what it should have been ★
A story billed as being about a non-binary teen forced to make an important choice about their transition spends the bulk of the film ignoring its main character.
The idea of ‘They’ is an attractive one — a story about a non-binary teenager who has medically delayed their puberty is very topical as debates about trans children rage on.
Fourteen-year-old J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is pushed into making decisions about whether to transition after health issues prevent their continued use of puberty blockers.
But what could have been an intimate look into the experiences of a non-binary teen quickly loses focus, spending its bulk entangled in uninteresting side plots that unfairly dominate the story.
Rather than looking at J’s conflict or personality in any depth, They chooses to devote most of the short 80-minute runtime towards the relationship between J’s sister, her boyfriend and his family.
The most we see of J’s turmoil is a clichéd blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when they are forced to decide which gendered toilet to use, as all other issues are cast aside.
There are echoes of this film’s potential when They finally shifts its full focus onto J in the last 10 minutes, which gives a tantalising glimpse into what They could — and should — have been.
For the bulk of the film, interesting details about J’s difficult decision and their relationships are pushed aside in favour of bland conversations between other characters.
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