Review by Sean Boelman
The last Maddie Ziegler film to debut at SXSW — The Fallout — ended up taking home the festival’s big prize and garnered a ton of critical acclaim. Although the teen sex comedy Bloody Hell did not make as big of a splash, it’s a funny, poignant movie that offers uncommon empathy in the face of familiar tropes.
The film follows a young girl whose life is upended when she is diagnosed with a rare reproductive condition called MRKH that sends her on a unique journey to discover her identity and sexuality. Although the movie is structured like a common coming-of-age film, Molly McGlynn’s script thrives with uncommon empathy.
The humor in the movie has to tread a very difficult line. On one hand, it clearly strives to be reminiscent of broadly funny teen sex comedies; but at the same time, it also wants to be a heartfelt and earnest depiction of the protagonist’s struggle with her condition. The film — perhaps miraculously — finds a great way to balance silly sex jokes with sharp and insightful commentary.
One of the most surprising things about the movie is that Maddie Ziegler gives a genuinely fantastic performance in the leading role. For the most part, she’s giving a standard — albeit funny — teen comedy turn. However, there are more than a few moments in which raw emotion peeks through in an absolutely moving way.
The film also boasts some impressive representation, especially when it comes to the Intersex community. In addition to the discussion as to what the protagonist’s MRKH diagnosis means for her identity, the movie contains a prominent Intersex side character. This character is played by an intersex actor — Ki Griffin — and is written in a way that feels authentic and not at all manipulative.
The rest of the ensemble is great too, including a strong supporting turn by Emily Hampshire as Ziegler’s character’s mother. The parallelisms that are drawn between the protagonist’s diagnosis and her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis are poignant and effective, even if they often take the backseat to other conflicts.
D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (who was also seen at SXSW this year in Only the Good Survive) is thoroughly charming in his role as the love interest. And as the best friend, Djouliet Amara has excellent chemistry with Ziegler. Both of these characters are underdeveloped, but Woon-A-Tai and Amara are so great that they elevate the parts.
Bloody Hell is one of the biggest surprises of this year’s SXSW, offering plenty of legitimate laughs and genuine heart. Maddie Ziegler has never been better than she is here, and Molly McGlynn’s script is charming and wonderfully empathetic.
Bloody Hell screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 10-18 in Austin, TX.