Another trans documentary, another disappointment. Following the release of National Geographic’s tone-deaf “Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric,” YouTube Red presents “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous,” a lifestyle portrait of transgender YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous that also misses the mark, this time from two-time Oscar winning director Barbara Kopple.
Multi-faceted and charming transgender characters are beginning to populate narrative film and television: “Orange is the New Black,” “Transparent,” and “Tangerine” have all placed transgender people at the center of their own narratives, in stories that move beyond transition and into the rest of their lives. As queer filmmakers push beyond hackneyed coming-out narratives, trans stories (and those wishing to tell them) have the added responsibility to reject the public’s fascination with medical transition. However, despite a wealth of fascinating trans stories to choose from, commercial documentaries are lagging behind.
“This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous” charts the short life of Gigi “Gorgeous” Lazzarato, a transgender makeup and beauty vlogger with over 2.4 million subscribers on YouTube. Presumably in order to shield the reveal of her transition, Lazzarato narrates her childhood in voiceover, only appearing as a talking ahead for about two thirds of the film. Her father, David, explains how unique she was, with a special light and flair for the dramatic from an early age, etc., etc. A successful competitive diver, Lazzarato began channeling her creative energy into YouTube videos in 2008.
Before she was Gigi, Gregory Lazzarato first changed her name to Gregory Gorgeous. Blonde bangs swept dramatically over her face, she confidently educated adolescent viewers in the joys of contouring. She became a model of self acceptance when she came out as gay, and the channel subscriptions poured in. Then, in early 2012, Gigi’s mother lost an ongoing battle with multiple forms of cancer. She took some time off from YouTube before deciding that life was too short, and she came out again — this time, as trans.
Courtesy of Sundance
In a tearful interview, David, who struggles to use Gigi’s correct name, breaks down about Gigi’s second coming out. But, he says, “Having Greg happy is way more important than me having old Greg.”
The relationships between Gigi and her father and brothers, especially in light of her mother’s death, provide the film’s most touching moments. David dotes on her as any loving parent would a sick child, throughout multiple surgeries. After her breast augmentation, he carefully instructs her to put the ice pack on from below, so the tissue doesn’t sag down. Recounting in great detail the nurse’s instructions, he mimes the gentle underhanded cupping motion over his own chest.
As touching as David’s doting fatherhood is, much of the film’s second act is devoted to Gigi’s medical transition, in all of its painful and graphic detail. As Laverne Cox told Katie Couric on her daytime talk show in 2014, “The preoccupation with transition and with surgery objectifies trans people.” Gigi may be preoccupied with her budding breasts, but when Kopple’s camera shares that fascination it has the effect of ogling Gigi’s newly feminized body.
Part of the problem is simply being trans, or being famous on YouTube, does not a fascinating documentary subject make. When Gigi flirts with introspection, saying: “My camera became my therapist and it became my diary,” the statement is left blowing in the wind, without any follow-up about the nature of celebrity or fame’s effect on her coming out. (Other than Gigi’s casual announcement that she paid for her surgeries on her own.)
Gigi’s fans (and there are many) may enjoy a slightly more intimate window into her life, but how much more is there to show when someone shares so much online? Anyone familiar with YouTube can see Gigi’s transition in great detail on her channel, and Kopple uses much of this footage to craft her narrative. David is an excellent model for parents who may be struggling to accept a trans child, but it’s not enough to anchor a whole movie.
YouTube Red’s prestige play worked as far as Kopple’s name association can carry them, but their involvement limited the filmmaker’s ability to critique YouTube culture in any meaningful way. Gigi is an invaluable role model to young trans people in her ferocious courage and undeniable fabulousness, but the film is little more than a celebration of that.
See “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous” on YouTube Red and in select theaters.