SXSW 2020 FILM REVIEW! I’m Gonna Make You Love Me starts with a man reading a passage from a book. He’s discussing how folks would hoot, holler, or yell at himself and other crossdressers as they walked down the sidewalk. Then he describes how he arrived at the name Natalia (aka Tish; though that nickname is never explained), and by the time the opening credits began, I had to restart the film. I was convinced I missed something important or vital, but I had not.
See, this documentary has a fatal flaw – it does not introduce its main subject whatsoever. His name is thrown out casually as if the audience is supposed to know this person on sight. The odd part of this is that some folks are introduced more than once. Gloria is first positioned as a neighbor of his, then later as the mother of his best friend in his teenage years.
His husband, Jim, describes how he initially saw this man across the street, on his way to the theater. Jim goes on to explain that he then Googled his now-husband and discovered the wild life he lived. This would be far more interesting if, at this point, I had any sense of who this author person is and why I should care. But, director Karen Bernstein never sets the foundation for who he is now or why his story is being told. It eventually becomes clear, but it is a struggle for empathy that lasts longer than it should.
“…Brian eventually started taking hormones and was transitioning to become Natalia…”
Have you yet noticed how I have intentionally not named the subject of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me? Maybe you rescanned the first three paragraphs searching for it? Perhaps you assumed I would refer to him as Natalia/ Tish for the whole review? Now, take that off-kilter feeling of not knowing who this is about and translate it to the opening 30-minutes of this film. Can you imagine how distracting it would to try and piece together if the boy in that photograph is him? Or wondering if he is that crossdresser or just talking about that a crossdresser he knew? Why are they on a “tour” starting in Rhode Island?
Mind you. There are several sweet moments between Brian (yes, that is his name; yes, it is mentioned just as offhandedly in the film) and Jim that at least show off his bigger than life personality and how much he loves his husband. At a gay pride parade, sitting atop a transformer, the two share a tender kiss in the rain. So, even though I have no clue who he is, I have a sense of his personality.
But, none of this explains why there’s a documentary chronicling his life story. Brian Belovitch was a somewhat effeminate boy, abused by his father and mother, and eventually moved to NYC in his late teens with Paulie, his best friend. There, they began cross-dressing, and Brian eventually started taking hormones and was transitioning to become Natalia fully; though, reassignment surgery was never in the cards.
"…This man is bigger than life..."