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Just Charlie left me an emotional mess. This story about a boy realizing that he is a girl is one of the most emotional experiences that I have had watching a movie. I like to believe that I am an ally to people like Charlie and most certainly am in my heart. Just Charlie, however, reminded me that I have so much to learn and to understand about the experience of someone who is struggling to be whom they really are.
Just Charlie stars young Harry Gilby as Charlie, a standout football/soccer player with a chance to move on to Premiere League. He’s being recruited and his father, Paul (Scot Williams), is over the moon about his son’s success. Paul was a footballer as a young man, but injuries left him unable to succeed in the way Charlie can and like so many struggling fathers, he’s trying to live his dream through his son.
Charlie, however, has a secret; he’s a woman. I apologize as I am going to get the pro-nouns wrong which is not something an ally is supposed to do. It’s part of my learning process. If I use an incorrect term in reference to Charlie, please know that I am working on it. The early scenes of Harry Gilby’s performance are incredibly moving. I worried for a moment that the film was perhaps too invasive, voyeuristic, but soon the film finds just the right balance between respecting Charlie and letting us into her mind.
Things have been very easy me throughout my life. I am a straight, white, male, who has never had to struggle with my identity or with the mindless scorn of mindless people. Watching Charlie struggle and fight within and without floored me. I was always aware of this struggle and I have seen it portrayed in other works, but something about this teenage girl, this child, having to feel like this and feel so confused and alone, broke my heart into a million pieces.
The film progresses to Charlie telling her parents about herself and Director Rebekah Fortune does an incredible job of layering in the reactions of the family, especially that of Charlie’s father who, in lesser hands than those of Director Fortune and actor Scot Williams, could be a simple villain. His struggle is part of the story and I loved how willing the movie is to allow him to be so very wrong. It makes the rest of his arc so much more moving.
I could cite a few overly conventional notes about the story. I could complain that there are times when Charlie is not at the front of the story enough, but these are minor complaints. Just Charlie may have a simple structure and recognizable arcs, but the deep and powerful emotions it evokes are what truly matter about this wonderfully humane and beautiful movie.
Just Charlie had me yelling at my screen out loud (I was watching it alone, I’m not rude), “It Gets Better.” I know that is an old reference in this fast moving world of social media and there is probably a newer, more apt hashtag that might sum up the feelings I had. The point is, I just wanted to wrap my arms around the Charlies of the world and tell them I love them, they are loved, and that the world isn’t always so cruel. It’s really not, even though cruelty for girls and boys like Charlie is such a huge part of their experience.
If Just Charlie did anything, it just made me want to tell people like Charlie that I love you. I’ve always had that in my heart but I never said it aloud, or wrote it down. I love you. Those who are struggling, those who are fighting, those who’ve already won their fight and found their place in the world, I love you. Just Charlie was a siren call for me. It woke me up and made me want to be better and help make a better world. That’s powerful stuff and it's part of why you need to see Just Charlie for yourself.
The other part of why you should see Just Charlie is because it’s just a damn good movie. It’s a work of delicate human drama, populated by wonderful performances. I have already praised the work of Harry Gilby, though I could say many more kind things, he’s absolutely brilliant, and Scot Williams as well, but I would be remiss not mentioning the women of Just Charlie. Patricia Potter and Elinor Machen-Fortune are wonderful as Charlie’s mother and sister who find their own struggles with Charlie’s identity but remain her fierce protectors.
Just Charlie premieres on Blu-Ray, DVD, and On-Demand formats on January 30th and I consider it a must-see film.