Football star Charlie is a girl trapped in the body of a boy. Rejected by her Father and teammates will she ever play football again?
Charlie is a pretty average kid growing up in England. The star player on her football team (soccer for you tossers from the US), she is eager to please her dad, the coach, she has plenty of friends that get on with her, a best mate to confide in, and it all seems to be going so well. So why the glum face? Charlie is a girl, in a boy’s body. While not perfect, Just Charlie, is a refreshing, original approach to material that could easily devolve into preachy, after-school special territory.
The film begins with Charlie (Harry Gilby), finishing up at practice. Her father Paul (Scot Williams) is ecstatic that his boy has just been informed that a top club is eager to sign her. Yet something is off. No time for that as Charlie’s older sister Eve (Elinor Machen-Fortune), is preparing to get married. While everyone is busy trying on their gender-specific clothes for the event, Charlie sneaks caresses of the dazzling, studded high heels that her cis female relatives get to try on.
“Just Charlie is a charming character piece that empathetically grapples with internal and external struggles we all have with the new…”
Things come to a rather painful head when Charlie is discovered in her room wearing a pink top and an adorable shade of lipstick by her dad. Peter Machen’s script deftly avoids the cliche moments of comic surprise by taking an honest approach to the material as Charlie’s father reacts with dread, anger, and sadness. More supportive, Charlie’s mum, Susan (Patricia Potter), approaches the ordeal with a more compassionate yet distraught demeanor.
Thankfully Just Charlie doesn’t spend its runtime going over whether or not the family will accept her. Instead we get past that hurdle early on and begin to see just how each family member copes, arrives at acceptance, or even shows support. While Charlie’s mum is first to offer support, we see different, unexpected moments of kindness. Charlie’s sister, who had began as self-centered, soon begins researching what her sibling is going through.
These are also coupled with honest moments of rejection, anger, and sadness. What is the process for a young person who decides to transition? What is school life like? How do her friends treat her? Once perceived as the star football player Charlie arrives to school one day in a female school uniform, determined to live comfortably in her skin. This moment in the film is heart wrenching not just for Charlie, as she gets out of the car and arrives at school, but for her mum, sitting in the car, watching her child enter the lion’s den.
Director Rebekah Fortune is careful to focus on the experience of transition and acceptance rather than making each scene a lesson on inclusion. How does each individual react to the new? Machen’s script is careful not to vilify those who react poorly to the Charlie, but to empathize with their point of view with an aim on understanding.
“Director Rebekah Fortune is careful to focus on the experience of transition and acceptance rather than making each scene a lesson on inclusion…”
While the performances are overall solid enough, this film would be nothing if not for the brave performance by Harry Gilby as Charlie. It takes a lot of courage for a young actor to take on such a challenging and emotionally complex portrayal of a young person in transition. Gilby does this with a light yet believable execution. Bryson’s portrayal of Charlie’s mum, Susan is the emotional mast of the film, navigating the new, often frightening waters of change with a cautious optimism and worrisome face. Williams portrayal of Paul is fine enough, but tragically, his falls in the most typical of character arcs and is, somehow, the least satisfying.
If there were one thing that was wrong with Just Charlie it would be a lack of humor. The film exhibits such a keen understanding of human behavior that it is a shame that laughter isn’t one of the coping mechanisms the characters use. There is a ceremonial sobriety to the proceedings that could have been beautifully garnished with just a little bit of humor to relieve the audience and lighten the mood a bit.
Regardless, Just Charlie is a charming character piece that empathetically grapples with internal and external struggles we all have with the new, and coming to terms with who we are at the end of the day.
Just Charlie (2017) Directed by Rebekah Fortune. Written by Peter Machen. Starring Harry Gilby, Scot Williams, Karen Bryson, Elinor Machen-Fortune
Just Charlie is worth VOD (***)
Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)