Body swap stories have been a staple of cinema for quite some time, and the spigot moves at a nice slow but steady pace. The beauty of the genre is that there is still a lot of territory to cover through its seemingly infinite permutations. Joseph Sackett’s feature film, Homebody, finds a charming and fresh take on the body swap formula.
Homebody is about Johnny (Tre Ryder), a ten-year-old boy obsessed with his babysitter Melanie (Colby Minifie). Arguably, Johnny loves Melanie more than his single mother (Maria Dizzia). Johnny’s thoughts are focused solely on the babysitter. He shoots video of her and lip-syncs her speech patterns.
Of course, Melanie has a life of her own. When she’s not babysitting, Melanie is a professional doula with clients who are about to give birth. One day, Melanie has to leave the babysitting gig early to meet with them. Her departure strikes fear into Johnny that she’ll never return, so he decides to research spirit transference from one of Melanie’s favorite YouTube videos. After some focus and concentration, Johnny transfers his spirit into Melanie’s body and shoves her spirit into her subconscious.
Johnny’s adventure as Melanie commences by trying to explain to his mother why Johnny’s body is sleeping in the middle of the day. Before venturing out into the world as Melanie, Johnny plays around with make-up and trying on outfits. However, Melanie soon gets a call from her doula clients who are about to give birth and need her with them as their midwife is stuck in horrible traffic. The confused Johnny needs to get Melanie to her apartment beforehand while keeping his soul-less body hidden from his mother.
“…Johnny transfers his spirit into Melanie’s body and shoves her spirit into her subconscious.”
Homebody could only exist as an independent movie. The subject matter of a ten-year-old boy in the body of a young adult woman may be too touchy for big studios, but it is handled delicately by filmmaker Joseph Sackett. There are times when things could’ve gone horribly wrong from an appropriateness standpoint, but the filmmaker wisely knows this, particularly with the ending.
Clearly, Colby Minifie carries much of the weight, playing regular Melanie and the Johnny-possessed version. Though the movie is listed as a comedy, Sackett made the right choice by going for light drama. Much of the story explores what being a woman means and feels like (tastefully) and how a woman gets on in the real world. Johnny’s childlike trust in the world sometimes comes off badly in the body of Melanie. Johnny/Melanie interacts with male strangers, an ex-boyfriend, and professional clients, which quickly broadens Johnny’s worldview.
To me, the heart of Homebody comes from the relationship between Johnny and Melanie. Throughout, the true nature of Johnny’s feelings for Melanie morph and evolve but is never nailed down until the end. The tension this causes propels the narrative into exciting and thought-provoking directions. As Johnny, Tre Ryder’s “appearance” comes mostly in voiceover and brilliantly manages to keep the character within the maturity level of an actual ten-year-old.
I should note that Homebody does not fall in the family-friendly category. I’d say it is much more in the LGBT realm. I don’t want to expand much on this for spoiler reasons, but the delicate nature of the plot is handled beautifully by Sackett and crew to create a sweet and heartwarming film in the end. Ultimately, this turns the body swap trope into an engaging character study in ways you won’t expect, which is the goal for a new generation of storytellers.
Homebody is currently available on Apple iTunes.
"…turns the body swap trope into an engaging character study in ways you won't expect..."