A man becomes a woman and then a man again
This week we’re highlighting some of the films that would have screened at the now-canceled South By Southwest film festival. Our next entry is I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. On the website it made available to critics, SXSW labels this as a “Festival Favorite,” though I wonder how it actually would have played in front of audiences.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is the story of a gay man named Brian, who has a big personality. When we meet him, he’s in a happy present-day monogamous relationship with a far-less-flighty fellow. They cook dinner together and seem to take good emotional care of each other. The film opens with 15 minutes of contextless banter between Brian and his partner, as well as the off-camera filmmaker, who obviously loves Brian and finds him charming and hilarious. She keeps cueing him up to say things, like he’s a cute toddler.
But as I watched I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, I found myself wondering: Who is this person and why is there a film about him? The movie gives us basically no clue until it’s too late to care.
Even though it only clocks in at 82 minutes, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me moves very slowly. It bops around in time, gradually filling in the blanks of Brian’s life. He grew up in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1960s, a tough time and place to be gay. Gradually, he found himself through cross-dressing and glam rock. Halfway through the film, he travels to German to get a surgery and transforms into a fabulous diva named Tish. Then, at the 53-minute mark, we learn that Tish, in the mid-1980s, was a glamorous up-and-coming cabaret performer in downtown New York. At that moment, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me introduces its only celebrity talking head, former Village Voice columnist Michael Musto.
If you’re going to feature someone like Michael Musto, a brilliant and entertaining writer, in your film, don’t hide him until the final reel. It’s triply frustrating because Musto actually tells us why we’re supposed to care about Brian/Tish in the first place. Maybe Brian’s journey exemplifies that of his generation. But he’s actually not that ordinary of a person. So why bury the lede? We get 20 minutes of people bullying him in a working-class Providence neighborhood, a lot of blah blah, and then we’re in and out of the NYC transgendered cabaret scene in the 1980s before we even have time to call a cab.
Brian appears to have found peace and redemption and wisdom in his transition back to male identity. That’s great for him and the people around him. And there are certainly interesting films to make and stories to tell in this new age of gender fluidity. He was obviously a pioneer in an impossible age for people like him. But if you’re making a movie about a downtown New York cabaret performer, then show us some cabaret, dammit! We see Brian’s ass where he had surgery to have his silicone implants removed. But we don’t get to hear Tish sing until the closing credits of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. That performance comes about 80 minutes too late.