PRODIGAL SONS: A Transwoman’s Bittersweet Homecoming
At the 20-year reunion of the Helena High School Class of 1985, one of the attendees declares, “All of us have changed since then!” For filmmaker Kimberly Reed, that’s an understatement. Reed is a statuesquely beautiful, doe-eyed, Nordic-looking woman (She bears more than a passing resemblance to late actress Natasha Richardson.) whose own personal story is the basis for the new documentary “Prodigal Sons”. Kim, who lives in New York City, used to be “Paul”– and she is attending her high school reunion in her Montana hometown with her brother Marc. The sister and brother have been estranged for more than a decade, largely because of sibling rivalry. Kim reveals to the audience that she’s nervous about how her former classmates will react to her and her life partner Claire: Having been a star athlete and voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school, she tells us,“Now, I was just hoping that they wouldn’t laugh at me”. As it turns out, her peers are exceptionally welcoming. At a keg party at an old classmate’s house, she meets up with her prom date, her former best friend, and others– all to positive response.
As it turns out, Kim’s reunion with her peers is the easier part of her journey. We learn that she has never made peace with her troubled brother Marc, whose personality has been colored by an accident at age 21 which necessitated removal of part of his brain. Like a dog who’s half wolf, Marc can go from docile and affable to unpredictably aggressive in a matter of seconds. (More about that later…) There’s also another brother, Todd, who’s openly gay and happily living in San Diego. “Prodigal Sons” goes from quiet indie film to Hollywood-style fantasy-come-to-life when Marc’s biological mother dies, and it is revealed that the troubled man is the grandson of cinema legends Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. (“Now he had an identity that wasn’t built in opposition to me”, Kim declares.) This revelation results in Marc being invited to Croatia by Oja Kodar, actress and former lover of Orson Welles’, who’s still glamorous at age 67. Ever the trooper, Sister Kim goes along to support Marc, documenting the surreal events of the trip all along the way. But beneath the promise of happier times on the horizon, there’s still the decades-old pissing contest of sorts brewing below the surface of this atypical Montana family– dating back to childhood, when Paul (prior to being Kim) was the “golden boy” of the family. Remember Brother Marc’s tempestuous personality and tendency for outbursts that I mentioned before? That’s exactly what happens when the three siblings reunite in Montana for Christmas– resulting in the police being called, jail time, a stay in a mental hospital, and many intense, emotional moments in the movie that are difficult to watch.
In its own quiet way, “Prodigal Sons” is a groundbreaking movie. It’s a rare film featuring a transsexual as the main protagonist that does NOT focus on the character’s gender transition. For decades, transsexuals in films– when they were shown at all– were viewed as victims or misfits. (And those were the GOOD depictions.) It is amazingly refreshing to see a well-adjusted, smart, and very strong transwoman who also happens to be in a healthy committed relationship. And, although the movie is not focused on Ms. Reed’s transition, the director does give much enlightening insight about life as a trans person: She tells us that many of her peers who have “crossed over” never talk about their pasts, and some even burn all pictures of themselves in their former gender . Paralleling Kim’s personal catharsis, “Prodigal Sons” addresses the universal issues of family relationships and family history– and, specifically, how all of us must confront and overcome our pasts to move forward, regardless of our gender identity. “Prodigal Sons” is a must-see.
“Prodigal Sons” is playing on Thursday, February 11 at 6:30PM at NYC’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, The Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St. Director Kimberly Reed will introduce the film and answer questions after the screening. A reception will follow the event. The movie then opens at NYC’s Cinema Village on February 26th. For more info and more showtimes, visit www.ProdigalSonsFilm.com.