VOD Review - Mala Mala

After premiering at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, this movie went on to win several awards at a myriad of festivals. It got a limited theatrical release in July 2015. Strand Releasing dropped it on DVD on November 10. It didn't catch my attention until it was nominated for Outstanding Documentary at the GLAAD Media Awards. It follows seven people from Puerto Rico who have transitioned or who are in the process of transitioning from one sex or gender to another. It's mostly male-to-female. There is one of the seven who is female-to-male. Included is an eighth person who is a drag queen, but the group is part of an organization called the Butterfly Trans Foundation. They talk about their lives and experiences, leading up to a political march on May 17, 2013, which is meant to support a law in Puerto Rico, called Bill 238 that would end job discrimination against transgender or transsexual people.

Because trans-people suffer job discrimination, many turn to prostitution, or do things that embrace the night-life. As such, the filmmakers here follow that night-life. By the end, when trans-people try to make the point that they're more than the night-life, nothing that precedes on screen supports them much at all. The movie as a whole might inescapably betray its overall message.

It's difficult for a movie to advocate that trans-people are more than prostitutes or sell sex when all the movie shows is trans-people being prostitutes or selling sex. Yet, that is the reality, that is the Catch-22. At one point, during a government meeting, one trans-person says she's not going to read any facts, data or statistics. She was just going to talk about personal stories.

This is a good tactic sometimes in order to get others to empathize with trans-people, and this is the tactic employed by the filmmakers here. Yet, this movie could have benefited from some facts, some data or some statistics. For example, Senator Ramón Luis Nieves introduced Bill 238. Nieves is a former lawyer. When he introduced the bill, he must have had facts, data or stats to do it. Simply interviewing Nieves would have helped things, helped to provide perspective and scope.

Directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, the movie doesn't provide enough biographical information about its eight, main subjects. I'm not sure how old any of them are, as well as various details, which are glossed over. One subject is Alberic who is revealed at the end to have become a lawyer. For nearly a hour-and-a-half, no clue that Alberic had any interest in the law is conveyed.

When it comes to Alberic, all we know is a love of Mean Girls, Marilyn Monroe and slow-motion, bubble baths. It's all superficial. We get nothing deeper about Alberic, which is indicative of this movie's modus operandi. It does the same with its subject named Ivana who gives out condoms at night and April Carrión, a Nina Flowers-inspired, drag queen aspiring to be on RuPaul's Drag Race. The movie provides only superficial sketches of those people.

There are some interesting and very insightful moments with several of the subjects. One woman named Saraya who is the eldest person in the movie brings up gender dysphoria, not identifying as trans and also not focusing on being a beauty queen. Samantha talks about not getting a job as a flight attendant because she's trans. Paxx is the only trans-man and he talks about the difficulty of being a trans-man at all and especially in Puerto Rico in terms of actually changing his body.

These moments are refreshing and in spurts compelling, but they're few and far between. Santini and Sickles do employ same neat filmmaking tricks to jazz up the look of this movie, but with the little substance provided, they're hollow tricks, empty illusions. Aside from another trans-person as subject here named Sandy going into her relationship with her boyfriend, there aren't many emotional stakes.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains nudity and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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