Sex Is Sex

Michael Welsh and Michelle Hendley in Eric Schaeffer’s “Boy Meets Girl.” | WOLFE RELEASING

Michael Welsh and Michelle Hendley in Eric Schaeffer’s “Boy Meets Girl.” | WOLFE RELEASING

The low-budget charmer “Boy Meets Girl” depicts a romantic roundelay that pivots around Ricky (Michelle Hendley), a pre-op transgender woman. The film, written and directed by Eric Schaeffer, is set in Kentucky, a locale the filmmaker used to tell a non-traditional story outside the usual suspect LGBT urban centers. In Ricky’s story, Schaeffer also challenges traditional notions of sexual and gender identities.

As the film opens, Ricky, complains to her straight best friend, Robby (Michael Welsh), that she is fed up with men and might start dating women if the right one comes along. Enter Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), a rich debutante type. When Ricky reveals her transgender status to Francesca via text, Francesca is unfazed, but when she in turn mentions her new friend to her fiancée, David (Michael Galante), a soldier serving in Afghanistan, he expresses displeasure.

Francesca soon begins sexually experimenting with Ricky, who asks Robby for tips on how to have “straight” sex — that is, vaginal intercourse — with her new girlfriend. The request makes Robby jealous.

Eric Schaeffer explodes notions, labels of gay, straight, transgender

Schaeffer uses a variety of couplings among the characters to explore and debunk labels. Francesca wonders if she is gay because she slept with Ricky, who responds, “You’re human.” But later, Ricky and Robby wonder if the fact that Robby enjoys getting fingered during straight sex makes him queer. Everyone in “Boy Meets Girl” is learning new things about themselves, with Ricky leading the way. Schaeffer does not judge, the lead characters learn not to judge, so why should anyone judge? Sex is sex, the film is saying.

But judge some other characters do. Francesca’s mother, Helen (Elizabeth Ward Land), offers unsolicited — and unwelcome — advice for Ricky once she learns she is transgender. Ricky reacts to each such provocation by becoming more emboldened, something Francesca admires her for. At times, such scenes come off as contrived, intended to deliver a message. Still, Ricky easily earns viewers’ sympathy, in part due to Hendley’s engaging performance of a character who is self-assured and likable.

“Boy Meets Girl” does give its transgender heroine one millstone, however. In a “flashcard” video, we learn how Ricky arrived at a seven-year estrangement from her mother, who abandoned her because she objected to her son being a “girl.” As the video recurs several times during the film, we see that Ricky did not always have confidence. This narrative device is clunky, but it reveals powerful truths about Ricky’s character.

Living one’s truth is essential to the film’s plot. Only when Robby, Francesca, and David reveal who they truly love do they find the freedom to live as they are and not, as one character poignantly puts its, as “everyone told us.” In this story, it’s the transgender character who has all the common sense. Everyone else is screwed up. It’s unfortunate that Schaeffer’s message over the course of the film comes to cudgel viewers.

Still, his good intentions take the film a long way. “Boy Meets Girl” does not build much dramatic tension, but it certainly has a nice payoff. As secrets and lies come to light, Ricky touches the lives of everyone she meets. “Boy Meets Girl” can be soapy and sappy at times, but this modest film aims to get points out in the open in order to prompt a discussion. In that respect, Schaeffer succeeds.

BOY MEETS GIRL | Directed by Eric Schaeffer | Wolfe Releasing | Opens Feb. 6 | Cinema Village | 22 E. 12th St. |