There is a nuanced and thoughtful heart at the core of the psychosexual drama “The New Girlfriend” (available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on Jan. 26) – as well as a playful and disarming attitude to this story of self-discovery.
In short: Grieving young Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) makes a surprising discovery about David (Romain Duris), the husband of her late best friend. (watch the trailer)
With its sometimes light approach to drama and its whiplash inducing shifts in tone, “The New Girlfriend” is more than just an entertaining movie but less than a genuinely poignant film. This compelling identity drama is peppered with overt melodramatic plot points and accented with impish bits of humor. “The New Girlfriend” is much more than just the story of a man who cross dresses – this is a tale of love, loss, self-deceit and self-discovery. It weaves and indulges in a variety of story tones – from mild slapstick to dreamy psychological drama. And by wholly embracing so many vastly different tones, “New Girlfriend” embraces its central premise – the exploration of fluidity and a rejection of simple categorization.
Although “New Girlfriend” is rooted in transgender plot points, this film is deeply rooted in identity – and how an awakening can fundamentally redefine a character and how resistant people are to accepting change in others or even themselves. Although David’s transformation into Virginia is the impetus for “New Girlfriend,” happily married Claire undergoes her own awakening after her best friend’s death.
“New Girlfriend” is at its best when it is allowed to indulge its small moments – such as Claire teaching Virginia how to apply mascara or Virginia choosing to change into David while gathering firewood. There’s an elegant simplicity to Virginia’s view of who she is – both in how she views David and what she enjoys about being Virginia.
Unfortunately, when this film needs to actually move from plot point to plot point, “The New Girlfriend” becomes decidedly much less subtle, as it employs melodramatic, soapy and even silly plot devices. Claire pantomiming to David to wipe off his lips (as he obviously was just wearing a lot of lipstick) borders on slapstick. And the major plot turn in the final act – a conveniently timed event that is as lazy as its inevitable resolution is predictable – is transparently ripped out of any daytime soap opera.
Final verdict: This unconventional and oddly sincere psychological drama twists and turns – both in tone and plot turns – in ways the absolutely prevent “The New Girlfriend” from being dropped into any one, easy-to-define genre. While this film deserves some credit for attempting a subversive rejection of normal film conventions, “New Girlfriend” is beset with a few too many inconsistent, slapstick-ish moments that pull the audience out of the movie and too often resorts to some blatant melodrama to advance the narrative.
“The New Girlfriend” is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on Jan. 26. This French drama is rated R for some strong sexual content and graphic nudity.