Starring Debargo Sanyal. Rating unavailable
The pieces that go into Venus have about as much in common as, well, samosas, size-12 heels, and skateboards.
But director Eisha Marjara makes her culture-crossing family comedy with a transgender twist so light and warm that it all somehow fits together. In the process, the Quebec filmmaker offers a fresh alternative to standard depictions of suffering and isolated trans characters.
Sid (Debargo Sanyal) is in the middle of transitioning when she’s approached by Ralph (Jamie Mayers), a 14-year-old who says Sid’s his father. As Sid struggles to come out to coworkers and her traditional South Asian family, the resolutely nonjudgmental Ralph starts to hang at Sid’s apartment. He tries Sid’s gourmet food, engages in impromptu living-room dance sessions, and quickly becomes the samosa-gorging, Ping-Pong–playing son Sid’s “Mamaji” (Vancouver’s Zena Daruwalla) and “Papaji” (London’s Gordon Warnecke) never had. Complicating this more is that Sid’s on-again closeted boyfriend (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) isn’t ready to set up house with a kid.
In an artful, slo-mo prologue, Sid describes her body as being like “a costume you can’t take off”, but heavy analysis of Sid’s transgender existence sort of ends there. The appeal of Venus is that Sid is allowed to simply exist. And while it’s worth discussing whether a cis-gender person should play someone who’s trans, Sanyal brings a thought-provoking range to Sid. The main character uses sarcasm and a sharp smile to arm herself against judgment, but you can sense the waves of insecurity and awkwardness that creep up even when she tries to project confidence out in public. Thankfully, Venus doesn’t offer up lectures or easy explanations for her situation: “I’m his father… mother… I’m working that part out,” Sid says of her relationship with Ralph.
But the key to the movie’s chemistry is Ralph, whom Mayers manages to make wonderfully open and curious. Sid is terrified of what he might think to see his biological dad dressed as a woman, but the response is a genuine “That’s cool.”
On rare occasions, the script feels stilted, and sometimes the gloss and gentle comedy feel more like TV. But the characters here are so likable, the elements so upbeat, you might forget how transgressive its ideas about family and gender really are.