Documentary about Janae Marie Kroczaleski is as much about body image in the powerlifting world as transitioning
TRANSFORMER (Michael Del Monte). 78 minutes. Opens Friday (October 19). See listing. Rating: NNN
Transformer is yet another documentary about the transition narrative, but with a compelling twist. Before Janae Marie Kroczaleski came out as a trans woman she was a famous, world record-breaking powerlifter named Matt Kroc. As such, Transformer is as much about body image in the bodybuilding world as it is about transitioning, as Janae grapples with what it means to be a 250-lbs musclebound woman who can’t “pass.”
The doc is told from Janae’s point of view as she talks to the camera and processes with her three accepting sons and supportive gym buddies. She is vulnerable and articulate when it comes to describing the connections between her macho persona and low self-esteem. At the same time, she loves lifting and can’t quite let go of her extreme male identity. (“I’ve started and stopped transition about eight times,” she says.) A body that became her “safety blanket” could now make her the target of scorn, but director Del Monte’s news-doc eye is less interested in societal factors than personal struggle.
Save for a couple of interviews with Janae’s unapologetically intolerant dad, Del Monte doesn’t probe deeply into aspects of the story indicative of systemic bias – her wife left her, she was outed by a competitor on YouTube, loses a major sponsorship deal and is fired from her job as a pharmacist after undergoing facial surgery – framing the struggle for acceptance exclusively as an internal one. We only get a few glimpses of what the more mundane aspects of Janae’s life are like outside the safe spaces of her home and the gym. Fortunately, she is as chatty and eminently likeable as she is ripped, and has no problem carrying the film.
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