Under My Skin


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Under My Skin
"A sensitive and insightful tale with a lot of emotional resonance."

As we go through life, we all change aspects of our identity. Making relationships last requires us to navigate around this, sometimes finding new ways to relate to one another – and it doesn’t always work. This ambitious, experimental film from first time feature director Daniel O’Donnell, which screened at Newfest 2021, looks at what happens when one couple try to cope with a shifting understanding of gender.

From the start, singer/songwriter Denny is hard to pin down. Lawyer Ryan (Alex Russell) has never met anyone like this before. He comes from a very prescribed, self-conscious world in which even transgressions are expected to follow a particular set of rules. He’s aware that his boss’ approach to masculinity is toxic but is wary about speaking up too often because he wants to progress in his career. Free-spirited Denny represents a whole different way of living, but the flip side of that is an aversion to commitment which is almost pathological, like a wild animal refusing to be tamed. It’s magnetic and it’s a source of constant anxiety.

The balance they manage to strike, as delicate as their relationship is passionate, lets Ryan flourish as never before, but it’s destined to be tested as never before when Denny starts to face up to long-suppressed gender dysphoria. Though the love between the two never fades, embracing a non-binary identity and figuring out how to manage it puts Denny through a tumult of emotions which Ryan can’t understand, whilst he struggles to come to terms with the different way that other people might see their relationship and interpret his sexuality.

The experience of watching Under My Skin is complicated and enriched by the fact that Denny is played by four different actors: Liv Hewson, Chloe Freeman, Lex Ryan and Bobbi Salvör Menuez. Their performances flow together beautifully but the disconcerting impression that they make artfully conveys the difficulty that Denny is facing in establishing a new, coherent identity, as well as the confusion Ryan faces in trying to relate to the person he’s living with. Nobody else seems to notice any difference; the turmoil is all beneath the surface and they’re not even paying serious attention to that.

A sensitive and insightful tale with a lot of emotional resonance, this is a film that anyone will be able to connect with. It benefits from strong performances all round and really gets under the skin of what it’s like to experience dysphoria, as well as exploring issues around misogyny and the damage that stems from clinging too tightly to social rules at the expense of acknowledging true feelings. It’s an astute picture of a complicated relationship, and may well move you more than you expect.

Reviewed on: 27 Oct 2021
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Under My Skin packshot
Denny, a free spirit and artist falls for Ryan, a strait-laced lawyer. When Denny questions gender their love is tested.

Director: David O'Donnell

Writer: David O'Donnell

Starring: Liv Hewson, Chloe Freeman, Lex Ryan, Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Alex Russell, Alexis Denisof

Year: 2020

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Australia, US


Newfest 2021

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