There's a certain amount of tabloid curiosity surrounding 'Becoming Chaz,' and it's no surprise. This documentary doesn't focus on an unknown figure about to break into the world through cinema; it's about the daughter of Sonny and Cher transitioning from female to male.
Iconic parents, inside scoops and sexual reassignment are the types of factoids that pique public curiosity, but dirt is not served up by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's latest doc. The men behind 'Party Monster' and 'Inside Deep Throat' have worked with Chaz Bono to document his transition, and with Bono acting as an executive producer, this isn't a dirt-digging, revelatory document.
It is, however, one whose worth transcends celebrity curiosity.
'Becoming Chaz' focuses on Chastity Bono's transition once he decides to get top surgery and publicly reveal himself as Chaz Bono. The film pours out a steady stream of information, from the evolution of Bono's thoughts about his identity to the medical particulars involved in the transition, how this decision affects his family, how it affects his relationship with partner Jennifer Elia and of course, how it affects his public persona, both legally and as a celebrity.
Instead of functioning as a juicy, tell-all film, 'Becoming Chaz' finds its power in its theme. Without the ability to dig in for a truly exploratory documentary, Bailey and Barbato flesh out everything else. The viewer becomes privy not to the sensational aspects of this transition, but the finer points both for Bono himself and others struggling with their transgenderism. The documentary explores how hormones affect actions just as much as intent, how early children realize their trans feelings, what medical possibilities are open to them and the myriad of ways families can react to transition.
In fact, Chaz's own family sets up an interesting dichotomy of support. The Bonos embrace Chaz as if he's the long-lost son who's finally come home. Cher, on the other hand, struggles. There is a palpable separation between Cher and Chaz, which might seem surprising given the singer's status as a gay icon. However, through a frank interview with the filmmakers, one in which she struggles with pronouns and seems unable to think of her daughter as anything but a woman, Cher also begins to understand the transition by comparing it to her own experiences. Her thoughts are, at the same time, both frank and reserved, and in some ways, reveal so much more than a juicy tell-all ever could.
'Becoming Chaz' is a documentary where the viewer must be happy with the former rather than the latter. Though the audience glimpses Bono's private life, this isn't about Chaz; it's about his transition and how he becomes Chaz and what that means both for himself and his family during those first months. As such, it's a great primer to those interested in transgendered experiences and transitions, and those who desperately need a crash course.
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