In its best moments, writer-director Martin Curland’s debut feature Zerophilia simply leaves its characters to do nothing but react to Luke’s (Taylor Handley) titular genetic condition which causes him to change genders whenever he’s aroused. Not only do these touchingly hilarious scenes deftly convey the difficulties of gender identity, they show the characters acting in ways both unexpected and truthful.
There’s a definite clunkiness to the film’s opening 15 minutes, however, which leaves the impression that the story is missing vital parts of its first act. The script sketches out Luke’s world in only the barest details: He goes to college but is never seen studying or attending class; he has a job but no boss or coworkers; and the only family member we see is a dead father. There’s a line at which narrative simplicity undercuts drama by hiding the ways in which the story affects the hero’s life, and Zerophilia crosses just over it.
Once the story gets going though, Handley and his female counterpart Marieh Delfino give standout performances which own the outrage, vulnerability and even strength that can be found in discovering that you may not be who you always thought you were. Likewise, supporting players Dustin Seavey and Allison Folland take their “straight confidant” roles in an interesting direction with their fascination and misdirected bitterness.
Some will inevitably be turned off or offended by Zerophilia’s medicalization of gender variance — even the title implies it is a disease — but they’ll have missed the point. Zerophilia is about challenging our desire for stable genders.