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Gay short movies
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Home » Drama » They (2017): Multi-Layered Story of a Teen’s Journey to Self-Discovery

"They" is a debut feature by Iranian filmmaker Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, building on themes from her previous short films. The film delicately handles the story of J, a pre-transition teen facing the critical decision of gender reassignment. Ghazvinizadeh's subtle approach, combined with naturalistic performances, especially from lead actor Rhys Fehrenbacher, creates a poignant and authentic portrayal of a teen's journey through self-discovery. Set against the backdrop of familial and cultural dynamics, "They" extends its narrative beyond J’s experience to include broader themes of individuality and belonging.

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They (2017)
80 min | Drama | 19 May 2017
4.8Rating: 4.8/10 from 610 users
Fourteen-year-old J, who uses the pronoun 'They,' is exploring their gender identity while taking hormone blockers to delay puberty. After two years of medication and therapy, J faces the pivotal decision of whether to transition. During a crucial weekend while their parents are away, J's sister Lauren and her Iranian partner Araz come to take care of J, each dealing with their own life-altering choices. This intimate drama unfolds over the weekend, revealing the nuanced struggles of identity, belonging, and self-discovery.



“Set in the Chicago metropolitan area, the story takes place over a single weekend. Thirteen-year-old J, assigned male at birth, is in the process of deciding which gender they will identify with in preparation for a meeting with a doctor. J keeps a diary, noting the times they feel like female, male, or no gender. Due to decreasing bone density, J must stop taking puberty blockers and choose a gender. Meanwhile, artist Araz and J’s sister, Lauren, are getting married so Araz can obtain residency documents to live in the United States. Araz’s parents cannot come to the U.S. and wish to see him, but Araz fears that if he returns to Iran, he will never be able to come back to the U.S.”

“They” follows J (Rhys Fehrenbacher), a Chicago teen grappling with gender identity in a film that mirrors its protagonist’s severe uncertainty. This feature debut by writer-director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh shows promise in its relaxed, character-driven moments but is weighed down by rambling storytelling and insistent aesthetic choices. Despite its timely subject matter and palpable sensitivity, the film’s airless and artificial execution limits its theatrical impact post-Cannes premiere.

J, a 14-year-old taking hormone blockers to delay puberty, navigates a state of suspended animation, contemplating whether to transition to male or female adulthood. This condition is visually represented through numerous fuzzy compositions that emphasize J’s confusion, accompanied by frequent cutaways to blossoming flowers and toy piano twinkling, which underscore their self-definition process.

However, the film’s doggedly pretentious style and clunky scripting detract from its impact. Conversations feel like didactic information dumps rather than natural interactions, further hampered by post-production audio recording that creates a disconnect with the visuals. This technical choice, combined with obscured faces and off-camera dialogue, detracts from the film’s coherence.

The story involves J being cared for by their visiting sister, Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), and Lauren’s Iranian boyfriend, Araz (Kooyar Hosseini), leading to a visit to Araz’s relatives. Despite a compelling dinner-table sequence, the film is mostly a collection of stilted discussions aiming to draw thematic parallels with J’s plight. Characters explicitly articulate their struggles, such as Araz’s limbo between two cultures and countries, mirroring J’s indecision.

Performances are generally wooden, with only Hosseini displaying any depth beyond flat indecision and unhappiness. Ghazvinizadeh’s direction, focused on J’s unease, often feels overly precious, with extensive scenes of J muttering poetry, which hinders empathetic engagement with their dilemma.

In summary, while “They” touches on important themes of gender identity and cultural displacement, its execution struggles to resonate due to a combination of pretentious style, awkward scripting, and technical missteps.

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