With Girl Inside, filmmaking duo Justine Pimlott and Maya Gallus present a sweet, compassionate account of 26-year-old Madison’s transition. The doc follows her story over three years, from pre-op to post-op, taking an insightful look at her internal and external struggles with the long and difficult process of becoming the woman she has always known herself to be.
Madison is an articulate, fascinating main subject who could easily carry this movie single handedly. Refreshingly Madison doesn’t have to. Madison’s family is a moving and entertaining supporting cast. Learning about Madison in the context of family takes this doc to a whole new level.
Girl Inside also becomes a touching and real portrayal of a family discovering their child or sibling is transitioning. Madison’s family is candid and at times not politically correct. But despite their struggles their love always shines through. It’s definitely the kind of film you would want your family to watch; it’s a perfect choice for TVO’s interactive Your Voice program where, following the broadcast, parents can ask questions of a panel that includes Madison and Gallus. “This is the kind of film that inspires discussion,” says Gallus. “I wish more parents would understand how important it is to be supportive of their children no matter what path they take.”
In the film grandmother Vivien in particular is a scene-stealer. She is Madison’s 80-year-old guardian angel with an apple martini. She is the comic relief and the one who isn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions with her compassion intact. She doesn’t try to use age as a reason for not understanding or accepting the transition of her grandchild, instead it seems to be part of the reason she is so relaxed about it all.
What I liked best about Gallus and Pimlott’s approach to filming Girl Inside is that everybody was allowed to just speak for themselves. There isn’t a jarring off camera voice prodding along the dialogue. Instead the film takes a gentle observational approach, sprinkled with diary confessional-style shots. Even when you’re hearing Madison confess fears and doubts, or when you’re following Madison into the surgery room, you are made to feel more like an invited guest or confidant rather than a voyeur.
Girl Inside refrains from getting too heavy or trying to take on too much. It doesn’t get into politics or negative societal views. Its scope stays small, intimate and human, tightly woven around Madison, her family and their personal account.
What results is a powerfully universal story of a person who just wants to be happy and be true to who they are. There is always room for more hopeful stories like this one onscreen. Girl Inside is an understated but wonderfully heartwarming and engaging doc.