Wednesday, October 17, 2018

film review: Transformer

Directed by: Michael Del Monte
Written by:  Michael Del Monte, Paul Kemp
Featuring:  Janae Marie Kroczaleski

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

There are many documentaries about bodybuilders and, more recently, trans-people undergoing gender re-assignment, but Transformer is both.

Director Del Monte strikes documentarian gold in profiling Janae Marie Kroczaleski, who is/was Matt, a world record powerlifter. As a child, Matt added muscle to ward off bullies, and now as an adult with three children of his own, he still doesn't feel comfortable in her own skin. It's revealing when she says that most bodybuilders, with their ripped biceps and calves of steel, suffer low self-esteem. That insecurity is the thread that runs through Transformer.

The footage of him as Matt pumping iron is, of course, breathtaking, but it's downright shocking to see Matt turn into Janae as he dons a wig and make-up, then heads off to a gay bar. It's that clash of feminine and masculine that Janae/Matt highlights to the viewer. Is bodybuilding extreme masculinity? How can Matt be drawn to this side of his masculinity, yet only be happy looking into the mirror as a woman?

The film charts Matt's journey to being Janae, a narrative we have seen before, but Transformer offers a new twist through bodybuilding. It's fascinating to see his parents' very mixed reaction before Matt goes under the knife. It's surprising that his three young sons accept Matt's transformation. (By all appearances, Matt is a loving, devoted father.) Unfortunately, Matt's estranged wife is missing from this documentary. Hers would've been a crucial voice. Missing too are Matt/Janae's current lovers. How would such a person accept Matt/Janae's identity and transformation?

The movie moves towards Matt's inevitable surgeries, but lags towards the end. I suspect the 60-minute TV version will flow better.  That said, Transformer is a strong film (pun intended) that will stir your notions on identity and gender.

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