Set in 1987 Alberta, Canada, Before I Change My Mind (★★★★★, CRITIC’S PICK) opens with Robin (Vaughan Murrae) walking into gym class, wearing a colorful sweater. The boys sit on one side of the room, the girls on the other, as the gym teacher leads an unsuccessful banana-based condom demonstration.
“You’re Robin,” she says, reading at the attendance, “and you are… American!” In director Trevor Anderson’s hilarious feature debut, whether the nonbinary protagonist — who proceeds to sit a comfortable distance away from peers — hails from Mars or Venus is less important than their literal place of origin: the United States (more specifically Spokane, Washington).
Robin’s peers soon stop asking whether they’re a boy or a girl and come to accept that they aren’t limited by the gender binary and that they’re, well, Robin.
Indeed, their musical teacher tells them, in one of many of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments, “You can be whatever you want to be in life. Here we only have saxophones.”
And Robin has their own drum, too. They navigate their new environment with poise and grace, masterfully befriending Carter (Dominic Lippa), the school bully, who seems to be going through more of an identity crisis than Robin, and enmeshing themself in the small town’s ecosystem, in and out of the classroom.
Robin is an anthropologist and artist coming of age who doesn’t need to come out of the closet, and who also doesn’t need a mother (aside from the occasional well-timed flashback). Nevertheless, Robin does get their hands dirty, sometimes playing the part of the bully not out of necessity, but because they knows from acute observations how to.
Robin even gets enthralled in an enthralling love triangle when they and Carter, in a highlight of the film, join the local community theater’s funky production of Mary Magdalene: Video Star (yes, that’s a spin on Jesus Christ Superstar) and meet the musical’s starlet Izzy (Lacey Oake).
When Izzy, being made by her friends to feel guilty about shoplifting, asks Robin, “Do you think it’s wrong to steal a $4 lipstick from a giant corporation that owns the whole world?”, Robin replies, “Is it a good color?”
Robin’s explorations of their identity and their place in the world (and Izzy’s too) are fascinating, and are just one reason Before I Change My Mind — a film that will make you laugh and cry in the same breath — is worth watching.
Before I Change My Mind is playing on Sunday, Oct. 22, at 5 p.m. at The Eaton.
Live screenings of Reel Affirmations films are Oct. 20 to 22 at the Eaton Hotel, 1201 K St. NW, in Washington, D.C.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29. Of the 43 films, 26 are available only online.
For a full schedule of films, including retrospective showings, all pricing and pass options, and party information, visit www.thedccenter.org/reelaffirmations.
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