Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Becoming Chaz

This is a tough review to write because the documentary BECOMING CHAZ has many layers. Ostensibly it is about transgenderism, but in reality there are many different subjects rolled into one. The subject, Chaz Bono, is the child of a very famous celebrity (Cher). Cher is surprisingly uncomfortable with the life that Chaz has chosen. In fact, to get her "top" surgery (having her breasts removed), Chaz has to borrow money from a friend. It's pretty shocking that Cher would not pay for it. In the interview with Cher that is in the film, she is very uncomfortable talking about Chaz. If Cher had been more open, you could probably have made the whole film about their relationship. As it is, there is so little that it is frustrating that we do not learn more.

Chaz is also a producer on the documentary, which means that it is likely one-sided, although to be honest, he left in a lot of material that is critical of him. But it may have been his choice to leave mother issues out of the movie as much as possible.

Then there is the issue of his partner, Jennifer. She is a lesbian who became involved with Chaz when she was still a woman, and is trying to stay with him through the transition. She's a graduate student and an alcoholic who falls off the wagon during the course of filming. Again, this could be the subject of a whole movie. This is probably the part of the movie that is most explored, but still I don't feel like I got to know her or their relationship very well.

Chaz touches briefly on her own substance abuse problems but never ties it in to her gender issues or to Jennifer's substance abuse. Another missed opportunity.

What the movie does best is explain Chaz's early life and the decision to change gender. It shows us a lot of what she goes through during the change. This is really interesting and informative to someone who is outside that community, although after this movie was released, Chaz appeared on David Letterman, and gave a more succinct version of the explanations.

For all its flaws, I do think this film is important and fascinating to watch. It is frustrating that there are so many dead ends in the subplots. Chaz never explains how he supports himself and his girlfriend. They seem to live a very nice life, yet he needs to borrow money for surgery. Simple details like this make it tough to want to care about these characters. (And his girlfriend is not very sympathetic to begin with.) It seems as though the film tries to bite off much more than it can chew. But do watch it.
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