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Sundance Film Review: ‘This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous’

Variety logo Variety 2/1/2017 Dennis Harvey
© Provided by Variety

Gender transition processes are, understandably, of intense interest to those going through them. But at a time when the subject has been portrayed in so many nonfiction and narrative forms, the question arises: Lacking a compelling central narrative, are they inherently compelling to everyone else? Maybe not.

Directed by esteemed documentarian Barbara Kopple, “This Is Everything” profiles changes, bodily and otherwise, in the still-young life of a YouTube star who began attracting a following in that medium a decade ago, when she was Gregory. Now, Gigi Gorgeous is a celebrity and an LGBTQ role model — albeit one very much for the age of selfies, reality TV, and “branding”; in that she appears to be all shiny surface, with no ideas or message more complicated than “Be yourself.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a beauty in the ultra-conventional mold of Pamela Anderson (or even Angelyne), but there’s nothing all that fascinating about it, either. This glossy doc uncovers very little conflict or depth in a personality more colorful than it is interesting, at least as presented here.

This is an odd detour for an Oscar-winning filmmaker still associated primarily with heavyweight political and social-justice themes, though in recent years her subjects have been lighter. (Kopple’s closest antecedent to “This Is Everything” is 2013’s “Running From Crazy,” an earnest profile of Mariel Hemingway that felt like a Lifetime “Intimate Portrait.”) Certainly transgender rights are a major social-justice issue (and political football) of our times. But Gigi Gorgeous is not a particularly articulate spokesperson, nor does she seem to have experienced any real hardship beyond the usual snipes from internet trolls. She’s a transgender celebrity in the mode of Caitlyn Jenner (whom she admires), a self-made princess primarily interested in being glamorous, and with the means to get there first-class. It’s easy to see why people in more challenging circumstances might see that image as encouraging, something to aspire to — but such individuals would make (and indeed have made) for more engrossing documentary protagonists than Gigi.

A middle child born in 1992 Toronto, Greg Lazzarato was an extrovert at an early age — a contrast to his amiably low-key, accepting brothers and father, though not necessarily to his effervescent mother, who died of leukemia in 2012. His perfectionist interests in performance and appearance led to his becoming, for several years, a competitive high-diver, which might have led to the Olympics had he stuck with it. But identity issues were already taking precedence, particularly as expressed in makeup tutorials he began posting on YouTube at age 14. Despite the inevitably crass homophobic insults they also provoked, these videos won a fast-growing following; soon, “Gregory Gorgeous” had attracted a manager and was making considerable cash via product endorsements. His online coming-out as gay (oddly, not excerpted here), then later as transgender, was a source of inspiration for some fans, many of whom we see Gigi hugging in tearful in-store appearances.

The gender transition did not officially begin until an announcement in late 2013, with various surgical and other procedures following. Gigi, and the film, try to eke some drama out of her supposedly “very conservative” father David’s discomfort with this. But by any normal standard, David is as supportive as can be, committing no insensitivity crimes worse than occasionally using the wrong pronoun and admitting, “I’m glad you’re doing what you want to do; it’s just hard for an old guy to understand.”

Was Lazzarato bullied at school? Did he have real, off-line friends growing up? With interviews beyond immediate family limited to promoters, surgeons, and fashion professionals, such basic insights are neglected. Even when Gigi gets a hunky first-ever boyfriend, he’s seen but not heard, and their breakup is described in the generically emotional yet unrevealing terms that a starlet might use in the pages of “People.”

At the end of the doc, Gigi is doing some modeling, but mostly is just being a professional celebrity, duly living in Los Angeles and shrieking with glee over lingerie purchases. The film’s title comes not from any soulful self-examination over realizing her true gender identity, but from a moment when she practically plotzes over the success of a breast augmentation. By then we’ve grown to expect no more than stock homilies and utterances like, “Oh my god oh my god oh my god!!!” — even at life-changing junctures — from a subject who genuinely aspires to be a mainstream commodity, and isn’t about to complicate her glam image with an articulateness she seemingly doesn’t possess anyway.

Much of “This Is Everything” consists of YouTube, home-movie, broadcast, and other preexisting footage, testifying to a not-yet-25-year-old life lived largely in public. If Kopple’s original footage somewhat surprisingly fails to probe any deeper into the personality at hand, one has to assume it’s because there isn’t much there.

There’s a smidgen of newsworthiness under the closing credits, as we see reports of Gigi being briefly detained at the airport and refused entry to Dubai last August because the United Arab Emirates classifies transgender persons as an illegal “imitation” of gender. Of course, why she was visiting a blatantly anti-LGBTQ nation in the first place is a question left unaddressed. In any case, this slick, pacey feature fails to render Gigi Gorgeous as much more convincing a human-rights spokeswoman than a Kardashian would be an effective champion of feminism or economic equality.

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