Chicago Culture Vulture

devouring theatre, film, and food

Summer Love and Identity in “Tomboy”


Moving is an emotional experience, especially for a 10-year old. Thin and petite Laure and her mischievous 6-year-old sister are packed up by their parents over the summer and moved to a new neighborhood.  In addition to all the stress and fears associated with new friends and a new school, Laure is mistaken for a boy.  Thing is, she doesn’t deny it.  “Michael,” she responds when asked her name.  And so begins a summer of fantasy for the pre-pubescent, swimming without a shirt, playing basketball with the boys, and kissing a young, long-haired girl.

French auteur-director Céline Sciamma sophomore feature “Tomboy” is a soft, beautiful coming-of-age film that follows this fantastical summer and the aftermath when Michael’s mother discovers it.  Overall, the family is loving — soft shots of shared baths and tickling sessions reveal that — but the mother’s response is heart-breaking.  She forces Laure to don a dress and parades her around the neighborhood to apologize.  The tour of humiliation comes to a climax when the young person is taken to the home of the young girl she has fallen for.

Tomboy follows this transformation and the consequences of a society unable to understand or support a child who is questioning their gender.  The young Zoé Héran gives a phenomenal, muted performance as the young person who slips into a new identity so easily, it should be questioned whether it was a deception at all.  From nail polish to G.I. Joes, gender norms are inscribed upon children before they even know how to do long division.  So were Laure’s actions a lie, or was she telling the truth for the first time?  Identity, whether it’s constructed or discovered, is a lifelong task.  It’s messy and only becomes all the more complicated when others have a stake in yours: parents, friends, teachers, businesses.  In this tug-of-war for your identity, it’s hard to find a moment when you’re truly who you are.  “Tomboy” celebrates a summer apart from that harsh, cruel reality, capturing a rare moment of truth as fleeting as childhood.

Tomboy was just playing ball at the Music Box Theatre. More information at


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This entry was posted on February 15, 2012 by in Film Review.
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