Becoming Chaz Review

As an audience member in ‘Becoming Chaz’, I spend a lot of time during the film wondering when the film was going to begin and when the advertisement for transition was going to end. ‘Becoming Chaz’ follows a year in the life of Chastity (now Chaz) Bono, the daughter of Cher and Sonny as she goes through surgery to remove her breasts and major life style changes to transition to Chaz.

The docu-film was directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato who mainly work within the world of television and ‘Becoming Chaz’ does not betray their roots. The televisual aspect of the film comes through with the heavy manipulation of time and interviews of everyone involved in the project. Interestingly enough, the very last scene of the film involves Chaz and his partner, Jenny who is trying to get a kiss. Chaz says that he doesn’t want to kiss her as he doesn’t want to be exploited in the media, ironically this is followed by a conversation between Chaz and Cher at the premiere of the film in front of the press. I sat and wondered, had Chaz watched the film? Perhaps he was not outwardly exploited in the ways that other filmmakers have done, but he allowed Bailey and Barbato to create a picture which, for me, was very one sided.

To sum up ‘Becoming Chaz’, I would have to say, utopian with a smattering of ‘make Cher look stupid’. By utopian I mean that the film is a very positive portrayal of transition and for the audience at the London Lesbian and Gay Festival, it was reassuring to see Chaz being fully accepted for who he is. He comments that it was the youngest members of his family that were the most comfortable and forthcoming about the news of the transition. We are now living in the world where people are more open about their sexuality but what the film neglects to comment properly on is the negative portrayals of transition and anything that could go wrong.

Now, some may say that I am being harsh about the entire film. There were some lighthearted moments and more of the things that Jenny says do make the audience laugh out loud, she really is mad as Chaz points out. But what the filmmakers do portray, perhaps unfairly, throughout the picture is the pure close-mindedness of Cher and how unaware of how unhappy Chastity Bono was. For me, there was a moment when Cher points out that she is unhappy that Chastity is using hormone injections as there is a lot of things being pumped into the system, at that point I made the comment about half the pharmaceuticals that were pumped into Cher’s forehead. There was one expressions of her face for the entire film (one interview which was cut up throughout and heavily edited to portray one point of view) and it is this pure hypocrisy of Cher that allows someone watching the film to fully understand where the filmmakers are coming from.

Whether done ironically or purposefully, they impose a sense of hypocrisy throughout the picture. There is one inter title with some of the side effects of hormone injections and these are very detrimental side effects, but what I find interested is that not even Chaz comments on these. The film itself lightly portrays the transition as something completely positive. What the film further comments on is the use of the media itself and in a way, the film, which has been produced for mass consumption tries to distance itself from that which it has been born from. When it montages a selection of news footage about Chastity/Chaz/Cher/operation and it represents the full melodrama of the story with the music and the fast paced editing, the audience laughed out loud. It was very funny to see, with an emphasis, a succession of the ways that the American media have handled the story, but I felt the film does make a point that it is not actually a member of this cultural media fun fair.

But actually I believe it fails to that exactly that. By making a point of distance, it brings itself closer… But that is something that audiences can discuss.

A highlight of the film for me was how human the characters actually were in the film. The relationship between Jenny and Chaz was represented beautifully, as something both bittersweet and sentimental at the same time. They had kisses and they had fights. They dealt with the extraordinary world of transition and they dealt with where to put the fruit at a party. Chaz played video games and Jenny fought with sobriety, they had their flaws and that was represented brilliantly on screen.

‘Becoming Chaz’ has been picked up by Oprah Winfrey herself, for her documentary channel which is starting next year and people are saying that hopefully, the channel will do for documentary what she did for books. This is an interesting point to leave it on, had Chaz not been the daughter of Sonny and Cher, would Oprah had been interested and would the film had been made. Chaz spends a long time making the point that he doesn’t want to be a celebrity…

Personally, I would recommend this film to be seen at least once but perhaps with repeat viewings the flaws may not seen so major. If you are a fan of films like ‘Transamerica’ then ‘Becoming Chaz’ is certainly something interesting and something new within the industry. There have been representations in the past of transgendered identity, but never with such a name behind it.


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