Monday, 23 February 2015

Different For Girls (1996)

I hadn't seen Different For Girls since the late 90s and had fond memories of it. Rewatching it, I may have realised I remembered it a little more fondly than it perhaps deserves, but that isn't to say that Tony Marchant's sensitive and well-intentioned film isn't a good movie. 

Marchant's script  follows the time-honored conventions of the romantic comedy movie genre, introducing two characters for whom opposites clearly attract. Paul is a hotheaded dispatch driver who, at 34, still largely lives like the punk obsessed teenager he was back in 1976. Kim is conservative and demure to the point of being painfully introverted. 

So far, so so...except Kim is a post operative transsexual and Paul was once his protection from the bullies back at school. 

A chance meeting in London one morning places the pair in an unusual relationship that neither can immediately get their heads around and numerous obstacles are put before them along the way to their happy ending.

Much of the film's success depends upon Steven Mackintosh's portrayal of the transsexual, Kim. So it's a relief to find that he is brilliant, hitting all the right notes of quiet determination, hard fought for privacy and shyness. It's a mark of his performance here that I actually forgot I was watching Steven Mackintosh, an actor I am very familiar with from other productions. He was simply Kim. 

As Paul, Rupert Graves gives a wonderfully swashbuckling turn inhabiting both the character's loutish recklessness as well as his obviously good heart. Unfortunately, Marchant's script makes the cardinal error of not getting under his character's skin as well as it ought to have done, which means the dynamics of the attraction he feels for someone he once knew to be a boy are sadly ill-explained. There's a great opportunity here to explore how certain Kim is of herself now and how still in the dark about himself and barely mature Paul is, but Marchant muffs it. Instead he offers us an unnecessary subplot concerning Kim's sister (Saskia Reeves) and her squaddie husband (Neil Dudgeon) who, it is revealed, is infertile. It's clear the message here is that it takes more to be a man than the ability to reproduce, but this is an obvious point you would hope we all know by now and, in the end, it is a diversion from the real heart of the tale (which is Paul and Kim, and what Paul sees in Kim) that wastes Dudgeon and Reeves, two excellent actors who appear to have been pushed centre stage like last minute subs in a game of football.

One of the things I fondly remembered about Different For Girls is the beautiful soundtrack of the punk and post punk/new wave music that Paul so loves. The film is choc-full of greats from the likes of Wreckless Eric, The Buzzcocks (who appear as themselves on stage when Paul takes Kim along to a gig) The Only Ones and Joe Jackson, whose 1979 hit gives the film its title. Keeping this late 70s vibe, the film also includes appearances from several notable figures from punk including Ian Dury as a bailiff, Edward Tudor-Pole as a solicitor and Graham Fellows aka Jilted John as the dispatch manager alongside the more traditional supporting cast that includes familiar faces such as Miriam Margolyes, the late Charlotte Coleman, Phil Davis and Robert Pugh.

Flawed and uneven it may be, but Different For Girls needs to be applauded for taking the first bold step in representing transsexualism on screen. Almost twenty years on, it is still an area that remains overlooked and that's the biggest flaw of all here.

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