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ABOUT RAY (#TIFF15 Review)

about_rayABOUT RAY
Directed by Gaby Dellal / Written by Nikole Beckwith / Starring Naomi Watts, Elle Fanning and Susan Sarandon

Ray: I just want to be normal.
Ray (Elle Fanning, MALEFICENT) was born Ramona. But that’s not who he is. He spends his days binding his breasts, lifting weights, eyeing the girl he likes from afar and avoiding bullies who take cheap shots (figurative and literal) because of the way he looks. Seventeen years old, he has his heart set on transitioning to finally be Ray, and comfortable in his own body.

But as he is only seventeen, he needs parental consent before his doctor will proceed. He lives with his mom Maggie (Naomi Watts, BIRDMAN: OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)) who appears to be on board with his decision. Also under the same roof are his grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) and her partner, Frances (Linda Emond, JULIE & JULIA), who don’t quite understand why the need for such drastic measures (“Can’t he just be a lesbian?”) but are lovingly supportive all the same.

But unfortunately for Ray, Maggie has something of an awkward past with her ex-boyfriend and has to track down her son’s biological father for his consent on the form as well. As the days go by and Ray learns more about his mom’s past and her reluctance to revisit it, it looks like he’ll never get what he needs to have a normal, happy future.

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ABOUT RAY is directed by Gaby Dellal (ON A CLEAR DAY) based on a story she wrote and a screenplay written by Nikole Beckwith (STOCKHOLM, PENNSYLVANIA). For the most part, it’s a tender story of a young boy enduring an unimaginable life, a story punctuated with dry humour courtesy of Sarandon’s character’s motherly and grandmotherly sarcasm.

The only real criticism I have for this film is that Maggie’s character is rather unlikable – too much so. The viewer has to understand that she is going through her own sense of loss, for the daughter she thought she had and knew, and give her some leeway to act out accordingly. But instead, she comes off as mostly cranky and selfish for much of the story, which kind of ruins your ability to connect with her.

It may not be perfect, but ABOUT RAY still holds enough emotional appeal to be worth your while.

3.5 sheep

ABOUT RAY screens at TIFF15 as part of the Special Presentations program. This is the screening information:

Saturday, September 12, 3:30 PM, Princess of Wales

Sunday, September 13, 11:15 AM, TIFF Bell Lifghtbox

For more information and for tickets, please visit tiff.net.

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