Review by Sean Boelman
Even though the Cannes Film Festival did not happen in its full form this year, the prestigious festival’s laurels live on through a label of films participating in the official selections and markets of other festivals. Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s drama A Good Man is one of those movies, but whether it is deserving of that recognition is another question.
The casting of cis actors in trans roles is something that is very controversial, just as the casting of an actor in a role of another race or ethnicity is problematic. But the least that a cis performer can do if they are taking this opportunity away from a trans person is give a turn that is empathetic and humanistic, and Noémie Merlant’s performance is very unexceptional.
But even if there had been a trans actor in the lead role, one could argue that this film would have struggled to get off the ground in the first place. Based on a true story, the movie follows a couple trying to have a baby as they realize that the trans masculine partner must carry the child because of his partner’s inability to conceive.
The film’s approach to trans issues is problematic to say the least. While yes, carrying a child is an inherently female attribute, the movie emphasizes the physical attributes that the protagonist must “lose” to become a parent. It seems to be unable to realize that, regardless of whether he has testosterone or estrogen in his veins, the protagonist is a man. It’s that simple.
Beyond its obvious issues, the film simply isn’t that interesting. Every element of the conflict is so drawn out and exaggerated that it feels soapy. And though the movie desperately wants to be introspective, it brings out a lot of those internal conflicts through painfully direct and obvious dialogue that effectively turns them into external conflicts.
The best moments in the film are those which explore the relationship between the two characters. It almost would have worked better as a romance, but since the movie is so preoccupied with trying (and failing) to be a profound film about gender identity, the audience isn’t really given much of a reason to care.
It’s sad because Mention-Schaar obviously has a very good eye. There is some really great cinematography to be seen in this movie, and some of the use of color is truly phenomenal. And Soko’s supporting performance is pretty strong as well. It’s the fact that there is so much potential that makes it so frustrating.
A Good Man is one of those movies that just seems like a bad idea. Although some of the production elements are quite good, the script is inefficient and misguided to an almost unforgivable level.
A Good Man screened for press and industry as a part of the TIFF Industry Selects sidebar of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 10-19.