When XXY opens, we're greeted with beautiful, undersea masses, each looking like they exist in their own floating world -- while still being attached to each other through waving, living cords. It's a stunning, yet sadly apt metaphor for the film, because while these are interconnected, the characters in Lucia Puenzo's film are anything but. They are struggling -- both to connect with each other and to uphold what they think is right. Unfortunately, the realm of what is 'right' is wavering and unclear. In the first scene, we see the start of an autopsy on a dead turtle. When the shell is removed, marine biologist Kraken (Ricardo Darín) sadly states that it was a girl. Unfortunately, his world isn't as cut and dry as the slain turtle's.
He has a kid named Alex -- wonderfully played by Inés Efron. Alex is a hermaphrodite who has been living through her adolescence as a girl. The family has moved around a lot, and it becomes clear that they've done so for the young kid's privacy and comfort. Alex's mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli), without talking to her husband, invites a surgeon and his family to visit and assess the situation -- with hopes that Alex will agree to have her penis removed and finally transition into one sex. What Suli doesn't realize is that Alex has stopped taking the prescribed hormones.
When the surgeon arrives, Alex flirts with and befriends his son, Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky). Their friendship is strained and confused. Both kids are struggling to define their own identities, and Alex, in particular, is very wary of people's motivations, due to his/her own ambiguous existence. Alvaro fills the spot of Alex's best friend -- exposition explains that Alex got in trouble for punching him, and now they're estranged. As the two families meet and interact, Alex's struggle unfolds -- from the pressure to neglect bodily urges to appease the hopeful demands of family, to his/her existence in the world-at-large.
While the story is solid, Efron's amazing performance makes it shine. She not only brings Alex to life, but also infuses the character with depth. It helps that the actress is 22, and not Alex's age, but this isn't some 90210 casting. Efron is completely believable. Each time her large, blue eyes fill with water, it's heart-wrenching. Free from sobs and dramatic emotion, the tears perfectly illustrate Alex's inner struggle. What really stings about this story is that this young kid has no idea who (s)he is. Coming from a youth driven by hormone pills, Alex doesn't even know what life, and his/her body, would be like without them. There is no physical basis, or set "I" as home base. It's no wonder that the kid is struggling to find an identity.
The struggles of those around Alex are equally moving. Instead of falling into the familiar dramatic trap where each character embodies a certain attitude or purpose, they are rich and diverse. Alex's mom clearly doesn't understand or recognize the struggles her child is going through, but at the same time, she's not overly-pushy, controlling, or in denial, like you might imagine. But Alex's father is the only one who really tries to understand Alex's turmoil. That doesn't mean the scenario is okay with him, but his desire for Alex to be centered and happy rises above his own expectations and hopes.
XXY is refreshing because it doesn't exist in binaries. Alex doesn't know what the future holds -- life as a woman, a man, or just as (s)he was born -- and the film doesn't presume to know either. It's simply the struggle of a young, misunderstood kid who just wants to be happy, accepted, and at ease.