Childhood can be a confusing time for anyone, but especially for queer youth. There’s a lot of pressure to fit into gender norms that are difficult to understand. Even within the queer community, there’s a sense that you must find a label that fits you with no thought to how labels can intersect and change over time. Some children are disconnected from their body and sense of self, a theme made literal in Homebody.
Homebody follows the story of Johnny, a nine-year-old in Brooklyn. (Editor’s note: Johnny is referred to with he/him pronouns by the other characters in the film and in promotional materials, but Johnny never states a preference for any set of pronouns in the film. For the purposes of this review, I will be using he/him pronouns in reference to Johnny.) Johnny spends much of his time with his babysitter Melanie (Colby Minifie), who he is fascinated by. He takes her lipstick to try on and films her on his phone, even copying her mannerisms. The line is often blurred between Johnny wanting to be like Melanie or be Melanie.
Melanie announces she will be leaving to focus full time on her doula work, which saddens Johnny. After a mishap involving guided meditation and Johnny’s desperate desire to keep Melanie around, Johnny finds himself inside Melanie in a Freaky Friday-esque situation. Will Johnny and Melanie be able to find a way out? And how does being in a adult woman’s body affect Johnny?
Homebody is best when it focuses on Minifie as Johnny trapped in Melanie’s body. Her expressive face tells the story even without Johnny’s inner monologue. We see so clearly the longing Johnny has to be Melanie full-time. It’s a performance that immediately reminded me of Tom Hanks’ iconic role in Big. Minifie is excellent at wide-eyed innocence, which may surprise fans who know her as Ashley on The Boys. The quiet moments that focus on Johnny-as-Melanie trying to navigate the adult world are the best parts of the film. Tre Ryder is a wonderful discovery as Johnny. There is a very moving scene between Ryder and Minifie at the end of the film that is its strongest moment, and it comes down to their chemistry.
This isn’t Joseph Sackett’s first time exploring gender norms and sexuality using a sci-fi premise. His previous short Dominant Species uses aliens to discuss toxic masculinity. But while his other shorts are darker in tone and content, this film aims for the light. Homebody has time for fun, such as Johnny doing Melanie’s makeup and wearing her clothes in a very childlike way. Sackett keeps a whimsical tone throughout, which makes the viewer feel like they are experiencing everything through Johnny’s eyes. It’s ultimately a sweet film, which the audience may not expect going in.
Anchored by strong performances from Minifie and Ryder, Sackett’s feature length debut is a moving take on the body-swap film that will give audiences a lot to think about. Homebody is screening from August 16-18 on OutFest’s virtual screening platform.