Julia Solomonoff's La Boyita (full on-screen title: The Last Summer of La Boyita) is a tender and touching coming-of-age film that locates its warmth and compassion through the non-judgmental perspectives of children. There is an inclination for films like this, which are rooted in nostalgia, to be melancholy, but while there is a bittersweet quality lingering around the edges of the film, Solomonoff keeps her focus on the treasured memories rather than the tragic ones.
Above all, the casting of Jorgelina is crucial to Solomonoff's goals, and she hit the jackpot with Guadalupe Alonso. The character is crossing the bridge between youthful innocence and teenage rebellion, and Alonso is perfect for both, with the passive-yet-curious eyes that are the essence of childhood, and the need to assert herself that defines teenage rebellion. Solomonoff shows Jorgelina peering through a window, watching with a hint of jealousy and awe as her sister and her friend try on push-up bras for the beach, and later, the way she studies Mario as he works around the farm or prepares for an upcoming horse race. Jorgelina may not yet be old enough to interrogate the mechanics of what she sees and her own emotional reactions to what she observes, but Solomonoff presents her behavior with wry humor and zero judgment, even when those outcomes still have a hint of childhood brattiness (such as when Jorgelina refuses to let her sister have the bathroom to herself, or when she tells her mother she's going to hide out all day in La Boyita instead of going swimming). The film lives and dies on the authenticity of Alonso's performance, and she has authenticity in spades: through her, Solomonoff captures the feeling of being young with such clarity that the film would be worth a watch even without the rest of the plot.
However, there is more plot, and it must be discussed in detail (mild spoilers to follow). Jorgelina is aware that her sister's period has started (referring to it as "her 'thing'"). She dislikes the idea of it, but knows what to look for, which makes it surprising when she notices that Mario is bleeding after one of their horse rides. It quickly becomes clear that Mario, who is much shorter and skinnier than his brother, is not a cisgender male, and that the other boys in town have been bullying him because they seem to know his secret. This turn in La Boyita may be slightly more divisive now than it was when the film was originally released in 2009, because it turns out that Mario was assigned male at birth, and only later it was discovered that what doctors thought were male genitalia were actually female genitalia. If Solomonoff's script has a shortcoming, it's that the viewer is rarely let into Mario's head. It's unclear how much of Mario's gender identity comes from within as opposed to what has been placed on him by a family that views him as male, and a modern movie might make more effort to clarify where his dysphoria comes from beyond the implication that it was an excess of male hormones. That said, it's clear that Solomonoff's sympathy lies with Mario, and the spirit of his conflict, which is confusion, remains valid even if cultural optics have evolved in 10 years.
Unlike a number of modern queer stories, Solmonoff is aware of but minimally interested in the bigotry of others. She includes scenes of Marco being bullied and beaten, but they are brief and never linger. Instead, the core of the film is watching Jorgelina and Mario bond with one another, with Jorgelina never questioning anything that Mario tells her about himself. Through Jorgelina's non-judgmental attitude, Mario starts to come out of his shell, embracing himself and the connection between them, a journey which culminates in a simple and beautiful moment of connection at the climax of the movie. Solomonoff's film isn't groundbreaking, but it has a light and tender touch that so many other coming-of-age stories, especially ones that get into queer territory, are sadly lacking.
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