Delicate, Touching Tale of Complex Adolescence in ‘Tomboy’

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CHICAGO – “Tomboy” is a delicate, sensitive story of adolescence that’s not often told in cinema. It is the tale of a young girl who would rather be a boy and those days before gender confusion hits puberty like a runaway train. The film’s greatest accomplishment is writer/director Celine Sciamma’s stunning ability to draw natural, believable performances from her adolescent cast, who never hit a false note in this moving film.

The press materials and some critics have somewhat incorrectly written that “Tomboy“‘s lead character Laure (Zoe Heran) is “mistaken for a boy” after she moves with her family to a new neighborhood as if it is not completely intentional on her part. It is clearly a decision (she says Mikael when a girl asks for her name) and not mere mistake by her new group of friends, which makes for a far more interesting take on identity than you might be expecting.

Photo credit: Rocket Releasing

She may not even fully understand why yet, but Laure is more comfortable as a boy – she wears her hair incredibly short, doesn’t wear earrings or makeup, and would be thought of as a male child by nearly anyone who saw her. But Sciamma doesn’t overplay the gender issue until she needs to, often just letting these kids be kids. We know that Laure’s secret life as Mikael will almost certainly have to come to an end, especially after she becomes an object of affection for Lisa (Jeanne Dison), but it is used as an undercurrent to typical child activity like playing soccer and dancing to music that is filmed with stunning naturalism. “Tomboy” gains power through its realism, not as an “issue movie.”

In a polar opposite move from what we usually see in films about issues as emotionally complex as this one, there is little melodrama in “Tomboy” (until the final reel). Weaker writers would have given Laure a rough home life or psychological issues beyond her gender identification, as if people like Laure only come from traumatic upbringings. Laure has a sweet younger sister (Malonn Levana) and supportive parents (Sophie Cattani, Mathieu Demy). The refusal to paint Laure’s story in broad, melodramatic strokes allows her tale to be told organically instead of manipulatively. We watch Laure struggle to hold it in while her male friends are peeing. We see her create a bulge to put in her swimsuit. It truly feels like if someone asked her why she’s doing this, she wouldn’t even know what to say in response. Kids are instinctual. Little boys often don’t know “why” they find the girl or boy in their class cute instead of full of cooties one day. They just do. In many ways, Laure is just doing what she feels naturally.

Photo credit: Rocket Releasing

And it’s the natural, unforced performance by the incredible Haran that allows that to work as well as it does. She has deep, emotional eyes that make her perfect casting purely on a visual level, but what’s most remarkable about her work is the sheer realism of it. One never feels like she’s putting anything on or over-playing the difficult situation in which she finds herself. And as it becomes clearer that Laure/Mikael’s duality will surely come to the surface eventually, the film becomes remarkably sad. This young girl is about to be struck with something that she may not have realized before – that she’s not like everyone else. It’s the delicate beauty of Sciamma’s film that makes that realization resonate as strongly as it does.

“Tomboy” stars Zoe Haran, Jeanne Dison, Malonn Levana, Sophie Cattani, and Mathieu Demy. It was written and directed by Celine Sciamma. It will be released at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago on January 27th, 2012. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Karl Ferron's picture

nice review

It’s about time that someone said something in a review that suggested that they actually saw a film. IHad read another review that almost panned the film; my hunch is that this movie will shake out more in a way that the reviewer suggests. I can’t wait to see this but will watch it with an open mind. Thank you.

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