The title is simple, evocative, and familiar. “Boy Meets Girl.” At first glance it
registers as one of the most basic narrative developments possible, a la “boy meets girl, boy marries girl,
boy has baby with girl, etc…” But Eric Schaeffer’s new film has something
different in mind.
Starring transgender actress Michelle Hendley, this take on the
teenage romantic dramedy breaks down the heterosexist, gendered tropes of its
genre for something altogether different. “Boy Meets Girl” is something nuanced and suggestive, not simplistic. Maybe Ricky
(played by Hendley) is coming to know herself as a woman as she awaits a
college admissions letter, her ticket out of small town Kentucky. Or maybe her
best friend Robby (Michael Welch) is finally seeing her as a girl he could be
attracted to. And possibly the film aims to throw all perception of gender out
the window: Ricky’s love interest does happen to be a cisgender, “heterosexual”
woman named Francesca, awaiting the return of her military male fiance.
Whatever the interpretation, the world premiere trailer for the
film has got an undeniable spirit all its own. It seems to seek for something
daring, new, and exciting even as it maintains a firm grasp on its genre roots.
We spoke with Hendley and Schaeffer about their interest in
telling a fresh and unique story, and about the real world resonance of “Boy Meets Girl.”
Bent: How did each of you decide that you wanted to be involved
with this project, and when did you come on board?
Schaeffer: I wanted to
make a film that was in keeping with the themes that are important to me –
finding love, being accepted for who you are unconditionally, breaking out of
society’s narrow expectations of how one should live their life and what
emotional/sexual life you’re supposed to have based on how you
identify gender and sexual orientation wise.
Hendley: For me it
seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. A transgender woman playing the role
of a transgender woman in a film that authentically represents the trans
experience is nothing short of revolutionary for my community. I was nervous as
hell, but entirely too passionate about the story of BMG to back down from the role. I was ready to go as soon as I
finished reading the script!
Bent: The teen rom-com-drama is a tried and true genre unto itself;
how does this film subvert said genre and carve out its own niche?
Schaeffer: I wanted
this film to conform, as you said, to a few very conventional conceits endemic
to the genre. That would lend a safety via familiarity to the audience and
therefore allow them to be lead in a direction that might have been a little
scary to them but now would be surprisingly comfortable. So from the very
title, Boy Meets Girl I wanted to
create a safe landscape people would be entering so they might be more inclined
to go on a wonderful and unique journey.
this film has pretty much all of the classic elements of a teen rom-com-drama,
but the one major difference is that the story is told through the perspective
of a transgender woman. This is uncharted territory for a lot of audiences, and
I hope Boy Meets Girl will spark new
discussions about gender, sexuality and romance in film and beyond.
Bent: What was the most difficult part about making this film?
Schaeffer: As with any
low budget independent film, getting it funded and then shooting it so quickly
because money is tight is the biggest battle. But this being my 9th film,
I’m used to that and it doesn’t feel difficult, it just feel like the beautiful
pain one must go through to get the prize…like I imagine birthing a baby
Hendley: There are a
few scenes in BMG that required me to
really reach far into some vulnerable places of myself. Because Ricky and I
share a lot of the same struggles as trans women, the lines between Ricky’s
feelings and my own would sometimes get a little blurry. At one point I lost
track if I was crying in a scene as Ricky or Michelle.
Bent: Why was it important to set the film in Kentucky?
Schaeffer: I wanted to
blow up every stereotype I could with this film, so setting it in the south,
where some might perceive there is a greater degree of bigotry, real or
imagined, would put a dent in that notion since there are many communities all
over our great country that are accepting of all people.
Hendley: A lot of
people I meet are surprised to hear I’m from Missouri and was raised in a very
supportive and nurturing community despite being transgender. I’ll bet you
those people wouldn’t think a story like BMG
could be told in a rural Kentucky town too. Boy
Meets Girl is out to challenge our preconceived notions of love and
community, and maybe to instill a little more open mindedness in us as well.
Bent: With trans visibility on the rise thanks to names like
Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, what do you think Boy Meets Girl adds to the representation of a transgender
Schaeffer: I hope that
being a positive, regular ole “feel-good romantic dramedy” that just
happens to have an element of the story that includes a transgender woman–in a
genre rife with very important and beautiful films and TV shows that are more
dramatic and at times dark–our film will knock down preconceptions and open
people’s minds to another perspective of what it is to be a cisgender man or
woman, transgender man or woman, gay, bisexual, lesbian and/or straight.
Hendley: I want people
to know that is it absolutely possible for a girl like Ricky to grow up with a
loving family, friends, a supportive community, to work a day job, and to go on
dates like any other girl her age. And not just that it is possible, but that
girls like Ricky exist, and their stories should be told too. It is imperative
that we acknowledge trans people as equal, contributing parts of society and
grant them the same respect as our cisgender brothers and sisters.
Bent: What is your favorite scene in the film? We want to give our
readers something to really look forward to!
Schaeffer: I love so
many scenes. But if I had to pick just one to take to the desert island, it
would be the scene when Francesca and her fiance David discuss whether or not
they can remain together. I think that scene sums up everything that’s
most important, funny, sweet and human about the film.
Hendley: My favorite
scene is when Ricky and Robby are discussing the differences between
“straight” and “gay” sex on the car ride to Francesca’s
house. I have had similar conversations with my straight guy friends before,
but this scene is still an absolute riot to watch on the big screen! Michael’s
sense of humor is so rich and it was a very fun scene to shoot.