Homebody is awaiting a UK release date.
Body-swap comedies have been a staple of filmmaking ever since the dawn of cinema, with early examples including, The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936), Turnabout (1940) and Goodbye Charlie (1964). However, it was not until Freaky Friday (1976) that the body swap comedy truly found its feet. Following its success, the gates were well and truly opened, with a plethora of body swap comedies arriving in cinemas throughout the 80s, including Vice-Versa, Big, Dream a Little Dream and many more.
However, how many of these actively explored gender identity or sexuality? It’s an interesting question, as we would expect themes of gender identity to sit at the heart of any body-swap comedy involving males and females. There are, of course, a few examples, including It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006). However, generally, body-swap comedies steer clear of gender identity and sexual orientation by focusing on same-gender swaps based on age. Therefore, Homebody is not only a groundbreaking leap forward in the sub-genre of the body swap comedy; it’s a tender, warm, beautifully written, performed and directed joy.
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Homebody started life as a short film called I Was in Your Blood, about a little boy who idolised his babysitter and wanted to be a part of her. Most of us, as children, have had this thought, wish or desire. Sometimes, this is due to hero worship (I wanted to be Marty McFly, aged 9), and sometimes it’s out of curiosity as our imaginations explore what it must be like to be someone else. But what if that desire to be someone else is rooted in the early stages of discovering your gender identity or sexuality?
Earlier I stated that I wanted to be Marty McFly, aged 9, but looking back, it was Michael J Fox who I wanted to be, because he held a strange undefinable attraction in my young mind. I didn’t know these feelings were the early stages of discovering my sexual orientation. But it’s now more than clear that I was beginning to identify my sexuality. Director Joseph Sackett clearly understands that self-discovery and identity take many years to form, but they start during our childhood through imaginative play.
Nine-year-old Johnny (Tre Ryder) lives in Brooklyn with his mum. But due to his mum’s busy career, Johnny spends much of his time with his babysitter Melanie (Colby Minifie). Johnny loves Melanie dearly, but this love is difficult to vocalise as he collects a box of memorabilia, from Melanie’s lipstick to hand-drawn pictures and letters. Of course, Melanie loves Johnny too, but her new career and training mean she will soon have to say goodbye to the boy she babysits. For Johnny, the prospect of Melanie leaving is too difficult to contemplate, but what if he could find a way to keep her around? And what if he could spend a day as Melanie, exploring the world through her eyes?
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There are so many things to love in the short one and a quarter-hour journey we take with Melanie and Johnny that, just like Johnny’s feelings for Melanie, it isn’t easy to put just how special this movie is into words. Homebody’s humour is beautifully sensitive in construct, never allowing for simplistic stereotypes or quick judgements. Here we are encouraged to view the world through Johnny’s eyes as he inhabits Melanie’s body, trying her makeup, dressing up with clothes from his mother’s wardrobe and eating copious amounts of sweets. Sackett keeps the tone light and loving throughout as we explore the world anew through Johnny. Here his innocence, honesty, and optimism are beautifully brought to life through the stunning performance of Minifie.
As we embark on the unique, delicate and humorous journey Sackett, Minifie and Ryder create, we are wrapped in the warmth of Ariel Marx’s score and the gloriously bright cinematography of Laura Valladao. Some may describe the resulting film as a queer take on Being John Malkovich or a gender identity conscious Freaky Friday. But for me, Homebody is something utterly new in the landscape of body swap movies, a child-centred exploration of what it means to be free to explore and learn without adult judgement.
Homebody is something utterly new in the landscape of body swap movies, a child-centred exploration of what it means to be free to explore and learn without adult judgement.