Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The film asks viewers of all backgrounds to make an empathic leap."

In the UK, around a quarter of homeless young people are LGBT. In the US Bible Belt, it's half. These are kids who often love their families, study hard at school, don't make trouble and try hard to fit in, but they're rejected anyway, just because of who they are. Unconditional sets out to humanise the problem through the fictional story of one of them.

Richard Hatcher plays Bradley, a young trans woman growing up in a religious family who desperately want her to be male. Although images of her dressing in front of a mirror are the stuff of cliché, the film distinguishes itself early on by showing the diversity of attitudes within the religious community. Some people react to Bradley with disgust. Some talk of hating the sin but loving the sinner; the degree to which they mean it varies. Some are clearly concerned about abetting what they see as sin, or torn between this concern and their desire to comfort and protect. The only thing they really have in common is a complete failure to understand where Bradley is coming from, interpreting her choice of clothes as deliberate provocation.

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In setting up this situation, the film asks viewers of all backgrounds to make an empathic leap, whether it's by making room for Bradley despite a shared lack of understanding or making room for people whose destructiveness doesn't necessarily stem from hate. There are also questions raised about the extent to which they understand how destructive they're being. The gulf between their world, modest as it is, and life on the streets is vast. As the film is under half an hour long, its portrait of the latter is necessarily truncated, and it packs in misery a little too fast to seem realistic, but there are no individual incidents that are not believable. Indeed, a lot of young homeless people have it worse.

This is a film with a specific mission, so it loses its critical perspective completely when looking at street rescue, which is presented as indisputably heroic (when done thoroughly enough). There's nothing particularly dodgy about this but it does make the film feel unbalanced; it also means that the characterisation isn't as strong, despite solid performances from the entire cast. Bradley herself gets a bit more chance to develop, and there's an unusual (but fitting) amount of attention paid to the moral adjustments she has to make, with her learned values facing challenges as her situation grows more extreme.

A thoughtful film which, for the most part,, is more interested in observation that judgement, Unconditional is a good introduction to its subject and film that, sadly, many young LGBT people will find easy to relate to.

Reviewed on: 11 Nov 2015
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Unconditional packshot
A teenager becomes homeless after she's rejected by her deeply religious community for being transgender.

Director: Kent Igleheart

Writer: Kent Igleheart

Starring: Richard Hatcher, Christine Horn, Travis Young, Candice Dixon, John Kap, Daneea Badie-McCray, Nic Starr

Year: 2015

Runtime: 28 minutes

Country: US


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