Ponyboi

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

River Gallo in Ponyboi
"There's a sense of the magic that cinema makes possible not only through escapism but through inviting us to reach out for more." | Photo: Maddie Leach

A visit to Ponyboi in his pink-lit room at the back of the laundrette with its mirrors and fairy lights and his My Little Pony collection is the stuff of fantasy for many of his visitors, working class men in a small, dead-end town seeking the pleasures many would deny desiring. For Ponyboi himself, however, this is the mundane world, just as extension of his work washing clothes, that warm glow fading under the harsh striplights, there amid the endless low rumble of the machines. For all that he finds pleasure in the attention of a certain sort of man, something is missing. Perhaps he's tired of life as someone's guilty little secret. He dreams of a tall stranger in a cowboy hat driving into town in a white Mustang to take him away from it all.

What is cinema if not a place where dreams can come true?

The first ever film about an intersex character made by intersex people and showing at a major film festival (Tribeca 2019), this atmospheric short explores the intersection of fantasy and reality and the crucial role that the former can play in helping us to build confidence and explore life's possibilities. Like many intersex people, Ponyboi has had a difficult childhood, glimpsed here in flashbacks, with the result that he's low on self-esteem. Is true love what he really needs to save him, or does he need to put himself in the driving seat?

Co-director, writer and star River Gallo skilfully adjusts ambient light and sound as we travel between different worlds within the same two rooms, out in the liminal territory of the parking lot and on a long open highway that belongs to an iconic, imagined America. He's torn between two archetypes of American masculinity which seem to reflect both his desires and aspects of what he could become, yet his comfort with the feminine aspects of his body and his world is a clear source of strength. There are hints here of a national identity crisis, a country uncertain of the direction it wishes to take - perhaps one that has lot sight of the value of dreams - and suddenly the type of character usually pushed to the margins assumes a symbolic centrality. There's a sense of the magic that cinema makes possible not only through escapism but through inviting us to reach out for more.

A potent little film now en route to being adapted into a feature, Ponyboi has much more to offer than a glimpse inside forgotten lives. Whilst its intertwining of the mundane with the fantastic could easily have fallen flat, it has sufficient confidence and personality to pull it off, and it won't be quickly forgotten.

Reviewed on: 26 Apr 2019
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A young intersex person searches for love and a better life.

Director: River Gallo, Sadé Clacken Joseph

Writer: River Gallo

Starring: River Gallo, Keith Allan, Sophie Labelle, Aaron Schwartz

Year: 2019

Runtime: 19 minutes

Country: US


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