Film Review: Finding KimA woman transitions to a man in this well-intentioned but uneven documentary.
When Finding Kim begins, Kim is a 48-year-old woman who has been injecting testosterone for three months. When she was a kid, her classmates refused to let her use the girls’ bathroom because she wasn’t feminine enough; a grown man once pushed her off her bicycle because she looked like “a dyke.” She never told her deeply religious parents about these and similar incidents. She abused drugs and fought depression. Now nearing 50 and living in Seattle, which, according to the film, “has the largest transgender and gender-nonconforming community in the U.S.,” Kim has decided to do what she has wanted since puberty: become a man.
There are two ways of looking at Finding Kim: as a film and as an agenda. As a film, it is uneven. We follow Kim over three years while he undergoes testosterone therapy and has top-surgery. Between these glimpse of his life, which are the strongest segments of the doc, we’re treated to interviews with trans and gay rights’ activists, like the magnetic Carmen Carrera of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fame, the writer Dan Savage, and the energetic former porn star Buck Angel, among others. Transgender Seattle locals are also featured as we visit a community rally.
The music that plays beneath many of these testimonials is often distracting. It rankles not only because it is the sort of uplifting sound that feels better suited to a commercial that’s using an “inspiring” situation to sell you something, but because, more simply, it’s too loud. There are several moments when the music overwhelms the interviewees. When these men and women talk about their personal histories, such as Angel’s wild, substance-addled past, or Carrera’s realization that being a gay man still did not fulfill her, the film compels, just as it does when Kim admits his insecurities: Will he no longer be able to hug straight men once he transitions? Should he tell his parents? Just whom, exactly, would that benefit?
These stories are fascinating, and some are moving. But when the film attempts to discuss the transgender movement in broader sociocultural terms, it often falls short, failing to offer new information or consider what is known in challenging ways. It mentions, for instance, the rift between the LGB and T communities; but we mostly hear trans people calling out the prejudices of the gay community, and little from that community itself. Savage is gay, and not transgender, but while he speaks on several topics, that sensitive controversy is not addressed. Instead, he and the others offer advice whose positive import is difficult to gainsay: Love yourself and be yourself. There is little ambiguity. Post-surgery recovery might be painful, and an easy answer to the question of telling Kim’s parents might never be found, but there is no doubt transitioning has made countless people happy and will make Kim happy as well.
Which brings us to Finding Kim as an agenda. What, to some viewers, might sound like platitudes, may strike the ears of others as a salve. When creating a story, ambiguity is important, but when crafting an agenda, that which best serves the argument takes precedence. As the music, the lingering shots of strap-on butterfly wings, and the many pieces of advice seem to indicate, encouragement is what Finding Kim strives to offer above all else. Considered in this light, its shortcomings as a film may make little difference. It can achieve its positive aim regardless.
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