Just Charlie

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Just Charlie was named Audience Award Winner at EIFF
"The heart of the film is a performance from Harry Gilby, in a feature debut - ably managing to convey not only the struggles but the strengths of young Charlie in the face of any number of vicissitudes."

Charlie wants to play football, and she wants to be who she is - a challenge for anyone, but more so since Charlie is struggling not only with the pressures of vicarious parental achievement but also because she was assigned male at birth.

"We have to be realistic," they say, and Just Charlie is - astonishingly, painstakingly so, matched to what amounts to a scrupulous fairness, an overwhelming and compellingly sympathetic character piece that was a deserved winner of the Audience Award at 2017's Edinburgh International Film Festival.

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The heart of the film is a performance from Harry Gilby, in a feature debut - ably managing to convey not only the struggles but the strengths of young Charlie in the face of any number of vicissitudes, not the least of which are in the relationships that are affected by what amounts to a realisation and not a change. Director Rebekah Fortune and writer Peter Machen have worked together before, on a similar project called Something Blue. At 2017's EIFF, their film was a fitting (and strong) colleague to Daphne and Romans, two other, albeit very different, features expanded from earlier, thematically similar, shorts. All three are rooted in single strong performances of characters re-engaging with the world, and all three would appear to have benefited from what amounts to rehearsal - that business of things becoming easier with practise is reflected in all three on-screen, and to good effect.

The process of growing up is often a difficult one, but films have access to funding bodies and all manner of support that individuals often do not. Charlie is not without allies, nor her family, and it's clear that the on-screen support of the organisation Mermaids was matched by off-screen guidance. While usually avoiding the didactic, Just Charlie manages to address each of the elements of a transition with a deftness matched only by Charlie's prowess on the football pitch. Indeed, one later sequence is made stronger by wrong-footing audiences who are acquainted with some of the sadder statistics of the process. Though it's potentially the kind of 'issue movie' that becomes a learning resource, a combination of factors - not least its quality as a story, but also the realistic quantity of swearing - mean that it will hopefully avoid that fate.

As Charlie's parents, Patrica Potter and Scot Williams are good, and their other daughter Eve is well portrayed by Elinor Machen-Fortune. There's an authenticity here, some of which may come from roles they've played in the previous work with Fortune, but most of which can be attributed to the quality of their performances.

Other striking moments come about from decisions made behind the camera - one beautiful shot relies on the geography of the family's suburban home, a corridor bisected by the wall dividing two bedrooms, one blue, one pink. There's probably a paragraph in the way that space is used and what decisions made within and around it signify, but I'll spare you - suffice to say that it's one of many small moments of quality within the film.

The wider supporting cast are good too - not least a turn from Peter Lloyd (another previous collaborator) as Charlie's coach Mick - it may not be a textbook example of how to be an ally, but it's close enough without feeling anything other than human. Again and again Just Charlie excels not only in the accuracy of its depiction of a complicated human issue but in being a good film. There's a power to its ending that's commendable. Unflinching when things are dark, unfazed by handling complex topics, Just Charlie is a charm, a delight.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2017
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The life of a young football prodigy is turned upside down after they come out as transgender.


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