Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Karen Bernstein, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is a new documentary exploring sexual and gender identity. Thanks to its lovable and charming subject and some interesting commentary on its central themes, Bernstein’s documentary is ultimately very compelling and thoughtful.
The film tells the story of Brian Belovitch, who in the 1980’s, came out as a trans woman named Tish, but later transitioned back into his original identity at an older age. Belovitch’s story is certainly a unique one, and an interesting case study in the fluidity of identity, but what makes the movie even more fascinating is the context in which it occurs.
Belovitch’s first transition came at a time in which homophobia was rampant as the AIDS crisis was reaching its prime. It’s really reflective of the era to see a gay man being forced to adopt a trans identity because of the aggressive oppression he faces for his true identity. Although the film doesn’t go into much detail about Belovitch’s struggle with AIDS, there are plenty of documentaries about that topic.
Instead, Bernstein focuses more on Belovitch’s quest to find acceptance. Some in the movie purport that Bernstein only came out in the 1980’s to get attention, and Bernstein allows their voices to be heard, but she certainly emphasizes the more nuanced discussion that can arise from the film about identity politics.
As the title suggests, Belovitch is a very charming subject, his lovably flamboyant personality dominating the screen in every interview and clip of archive footage. Although the movie is certainly very personal, and only grazes upon the larger societal issues in which Belovitch was involved, it still feels very relevant and touching.
One of the weaker aspects of the film is that it does not totally explore the themes of addiction that the movie offers. Although there are plenty of moments that show hints of depth to come, the film often diverts to a new path before it cuts particularly deep on this subject. The parts that do address this issue are emotionally resonant, but the movie could have been even more impactful as a whole had there been more of this.
On a technical level, Bernstein’s film is very strong. She blends modern-day interviews with archive footage quite well to create a story with legitimate momentum. Clocking in at just over an hour and twenty minutes, the movie never loses the audience's attention, and could have even spared to be a bit longer.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is definitely a solid documentary, and while it doesn’t address all of its themes to their full potential, it has a lot of moments that are very thoughtful. Bernstein’s documentary is far from conventional and certainly not forgettable.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me was set to screen at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.