A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Girl is a 2018 Belgian film (with English subtitles) that follows Lara, a 15-year-old born as a boy and transitioning into a girl. She's been taking puberty-suppressing hormones with the goal of beginning a female hormone regimen and undergoing a surgical procedure to make her body conform to her self-image. Doctor visits and frank discussions with a supportive father and therapist candidly reveal the graphic details of what such a transformation entails, both physically and emotionally. This can be an uplifting document for those considering the same change, but be aware that bullying and depression result in a violent act (not shown). This also addresses universal body image issues that plague many teens not undergoing Lara's journey. A scene depicts oral sex, but no genitals are seen. Classmates at Lara's ballet school sometimes embrace and sometimes taunt her. Lara tapes her male genitals so they don't show under her clothes. A teen stands naked before a mirror, showing a penis. Language includes "s--t," "d--k," "vagina," "penis," "glans," "clitoris," "damn," and "bitch."
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What's the story?
Lara is the title's Girl, born into a male body but identifying as female. At 15, poised to begin a course of female hormones in preparation for surgery, she lives in Belgium with her supportive father, Mathias (Arieh Woltholter), and 6-year-old brother, Milo (Oliver Bodart). They are doubly supportive in that they've uprooted themselves so that Lara can attend Belgian's best dance school, where she can improve her technique in the quest to become a ballerina. A team of doctors are preparing her for transition, including a therapist encouraging her not to put off living until she has the body she wants, advice that seems both supportive but also oblivious to Lara's discomfort. A guy in her new building catches her eye, and although she's still ashamed that her body doesn't match her identity, she pursues a sexual encounter that results in her giving him oral sex and then running away. Either one of the twin stresses in her life -- impatience for completing her transition or feeling inadequate as a dancer -- could wear down the strongest teenager. Together they bring her to a breaking point that results in self-injury. What the future holds for her remains undisclosed.
Is it any good?
Based on the true story of a ballerina named Nora Monsecour, the film is a riveting tribute to the courage of a young person undergoing the slow and difficult process of transition. Victor Polster, a cisgender male (born male and identifying as male), was cast as Lara for his resemblance to the dancer and for his acting and dance ability. Audiences should know that some in the transgender community have complained that Girl didn't cast a trans actor for the role, and that with its emphasis on body image, it's exploitive rather than representative.
Politics aside, Polster is moving and believable enough to make this feel at times like a documentary in which the audience has been invited to watch the transition process step-by-step. This may be jarring and discomforting for some but heartening and encouraging for those in the same position who are experiencing social backlash and have less supportive and encouraging parents. The movie takes pains to explore the ways in which simply being a dancer, surrounded by mirrors and unyielding body ideals, can set a youth on a path of body image pathology. Sensitive performances are given by all. The film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Golden Globe and won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how difficult it would be to feel trapped in the body of a gender that doesn't feel right. How do you think it would feel to know it would take medicine and surgery to allow you to be at home in your own body?
What do you think of the girls who bully Lara into showing her genitals? Why do you think they do it? Why do you think Lara relents after saying no so many times?
Why do you think people exclude those who are different? Do you think it comes from fear of the unknown? Or something else? What do you think people might be afraid of? Do you think racism and other kinds of hatred are also fear-based?
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