Entertainment » Television

They (Frameline)

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jun 18, 2018

J's (Rhys Fehrenbacher) preferred pronouns are "them," "their," and - as the film's title indicates - "They," which suggests a certain non-specificity befitting their status as a child taking puberty blockers in order to buy time before the onset of physically defining adolescent development. It's time J needs in order to make crucial decisions that will affect the rest of their life.

But J is far from the only character in this Anahita Ghazvinizadeh-written and directed film to whom the the title applies. It also encompasses J's immediate family and extended family-to-be. There's elder sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), for example, who has been out of close contact with J and their parents for some time. Lauren was on her way to becoming a physician when she veered off course and set her sights on an art career; now she's got to decide on a residency of another sort, in New Zealand with an art collective.

Then there's Lauren's fiancé, Araz (Koohyar Hosseini), an Iranian emigre who is tormented by a toothache as well as a sense of growing isolation. His parents back in Iran don't want him to return to Iran lest he not be allowed back into America, and their hopes for him force them to withhold some serious family news.

With their parents out of town for the weekend, J and Lauren have a chance to reconnect. How will their respective journeys influence each other, if at all?

One notes with interest that Jane Campion is credited as being an executive producer on this project, and it's a measure of the ways in which stories such as this one still struggle to be told that one wonders whether the film would have gotten made without Campion's involvement. Either way, Campion is to be lauded for supporting the film, which is sensitive, poetic, and often oblique in both narration and visual style. At the same time, the film includes some telling and deliberate touches - J's helpfulness, their ability with mechanical things like jammed-up bicycle chains (not to mention their boy-like tendency to wipe their grimy fingers on their dress as though they were wearing blue jeans), and their talent with growing things, the latter of which is helpful when it comes to helping tend the family greenhouse.

Other details catch and hold our attention, especially since they are not spelled out in explicit detail. When J happens upon some kids in the neighborhood, they don't seem to think there's anything odd about them; no teasing or bullying ensues. (Though we do hear about a physical altercation when J relates some of their experiences to Laureen.) At a dinner party hosted by Araz's aunt, a relative asks of J, in Farsi, whether they are a boy, but this doesn't turn into a point of contention.

Most intriguing is a phone call in which we hear only Lauren's side as she argues with their mother (Norma Maruzzi), and the things she confronts Mom with - that their parents wouldn't allow the siblings to communicate with each other - prick at and startle the imagination. Why wouldn't Mom and Dad let the siblings speak? Do they view Laureen with skepticism because of her career choices? Her engagement to Araz? Some other family debate? It's never made clear, and that choice makes the whole film that much more memorable.

This is a smaller, more meditative film than, say, "3 Generations" (a criminally overlooked movie, by the way), but "They" easily holds its own in an admittedly underserved genre.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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