The Garden Left Behind traces the relationship between Tina, a young transwoman, and Eliana, her grandmother, as they navigate Tina’s transition and struggle to build a life for themselves as undocumented immigrants in New York City.
The Garden Left Behind is a beautifully calm film to watch that leaves the viewer feeling serenely optimistic. That is not to say that it is the most upbeat movie. It follows the story of pre-transition Tina (Carlie Guevara), who lives with her Abuela Eliana (Miriam Cruz) in New York City. The two have no green cards but live modestly while Tina supports the home with money earned through using her own car as a taxi (Yes, like an Uber type of thing).
“The two have no green cards but live modestly while Tina…earns money through using her own car as a taxi…”
As the story opens, things seem pretty tranquil, but hardly ideal. Tina begrudgingly makes the occasional mandatory visit to Dr. Cleary (Ed Asner) for psychiatric evaluation prior to reassignment surgery. Her other trans friends Carol (Tamara M. Williams) and Amanda (Ivana Black) encourage and support her. Even her Abuela is supportive with only the slightest bit of hesitation. Occasionally Tina is even able to carve out some time to see her cis-male boyfriend Jason (Alex Kruz). So then where is the conflict?
Writer-director Flavio Alves assisted on the script by John Rotondo has a very clear point to make in that the conflict in the story never comes from our protagonist, Tina. Instead, Tina lives in a world that is in conflict with her. On a passive level, things work well enough, and despite minor internal conflict, she is on a path to internal and external harmony. That is if it weren’t for the hidden dangers. Boyfriend Jason has his own secrets that demand he draws a line between personal and professional appearances. Chris (Anthony Abdo), the troubled young guy behind the counter at the local market, is battling an inner demon that threatens many in his community. That is not to mention a recent hate crime in the neighborhood that resulted in the death of another trans woman.
So why doesn’t The Garden Left Behind fully work? As much as I personally loved the message, I needed to have the chance to connect with Tina on a deeper more universal level. Let’s be clear; Guevara is a revelation. Endlessly watchable, she exudes a warm vulnerability that is relatable. To open this to a wider audience, however, we need more universal conflict, even if it were secondary. Yes, we have the green card issue, but again that speaks to other minorities and not to the general cis-gender population.
“…want to commend the choice of diversity in the cast and the use of trans actors…”
Plot notes aside, I want to commend the choice of diversity in the cast and the use of trans actors in the film. We have older white guys, young African-American trans-female actors, and everything in-between. Furthermore, the performances are good. The casting choices seem to have been made on real talent. Williams and Black as Carol and Amanda ground the movie with a knowing reassurance. Cruz as Abuela Eliana gives the film an emotional anchor that is vital.
Not perfect, but a joy to watch, The Garden Left Behind is a melancholy but strangely optimistic look at the struggles that some in the Trans community face every single day. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a movie with a message of tolerance and understanding. For that, it should be praised.
The Garden Left Behind (2019) Directed by Flavio Alves. Written by Flavio Alves, John Rotondo. Starring Carlie Guevara, Michael Madsen, Edward Asner, Danny Flaherty, Alex Kruz, Anthony Abdo, Ivana Black.
7 out of 10 stars