Appellate Judge Tom Becker will have what you're having.
To be a woman!
The early '70s saw a mini-glut of films about gender reassessment. Most of these were exploitation offerings: The Christine Jorgensen Story, Let Me Die a Woman, and Myra Breckenridge treated sex change as a freak show or a joke.
I Want What I Want, released in 1972, took a far less sensational approach, offering up a solid—if, at times, a tad too low-key—portrait of a man who wants to live his life as a woman.
When we first meet Roy (Anne Heywood, Midas Run), he's a young man living with his overbearing father (Harry Andrews, The Ruling Class) and working in real estate. Roy is a "delicate" guy, interested in fashion, and it wouldn't be unkind to call him feminine.
One night, Roy's father comes home to find his son decked out in drag. An ugly scene ensues as Roy tries to explain that he's not homosexual, merely that he feels he was born in the wrong body. This bit of reasoning doesn't prevent dad from humiliating and clobbering him.
Using a small inheritance, Roy goes off, rents a small apartment, and begins practicing how to live as a woman—dressing, applying make up, practicing walking, and so on. Eyes heavy with Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra-style make up, and a copy of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex in tow, Roy is ready to try to pass. Adopting the name Wendy, Roy moves to a place where no one knows him and begins life as a woman.
But this bold step presents challenges. From a legal standpoint, "Wendy" does not exist, so it's going to be tough for her to get work.
And while Roy doesn't consider himself homosexual, Wendy finds she definitely has feelings for a man.
A well-made, subdued British import with a terrific lead performance by Heywood, I Want What I Want is refreshingly far a field from the usual gender-bending exploitation product. If you knew nothing about the film and started watching in the middle, it might take a while before you actually figured out the subject matter.
While the sex change business is '70s topical, the film's sensibilities are really from another time. As Roy evolves into Wendy, the film evolves into a "woman's picture," and since Wendy, fearful of discovery, is so straitlaced, she really seems like a woman from another era. Much of the film takes place as Wendy tries to adjust to her new life. The people she meets have no idea about Roy, and she's gradually empowered enough to take the next step: visit a doctor to inquire about gender reassessment surgery.
The tension in the films comes from the threat of Wendy being found out. For a time, her life is as idyllic as possible. She's accepted by people and comfortable with herself. There are always problems on the horizon, though: her sister is accepting, though uncomfortable; the operation to make her "real" is expensive and will take time; and she is unable to work because she cannot provide identity papers.
But the biggest problem is that Wendy finds herself falling for a callous womanizer named Frank (Michael Coles, Dr. Who and the Daleks). Obviously, that's not going to work out well, and as Wendy dares to let her feelings show, we know it's only a matter of time before everything comes crashing down.
John Dexter's direction is subtle, avoiding sensationalism in favor of a compelling character study. But without a strong central performance, this film would never fly; fortunately, Dexter had a very capable lead in Anne Heywood.
Heywood had been making films in England for years, usually supporting roles in films that weren't especially noteworthy. She made something of an arthouse splash in 1968 in The Fox, Mark Rydell's adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence story. Heywood is excellent in I Want What I Want, offering a thoughtful, nuanced performance in a challenging role. Her Roy is feminine, yet believable, and her Wendy exudes a vaguely masculine quality.
Heywood avoids cliches; hers is a fully rounded portrait of a lost soul searching for herself. It's a lovely, magnetic performance, and had this film been made a few decades later, when a topic such as gender reassessment had lost its novelty, she might have won the kind of acclaim Felicity Huffman received for her own transgendered turn in Transamerica.
The disc from Scorpion is serviceable: acceptable transfer and audio, but bare bones save for a Spanish-language trailer.
An interesting attempt to create a sympathetic portrayal of a topic often treated like a freakshow, I Want What I Want is an interesting relic. Worth checking out, perhaps as a rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
• Spanish Trailer
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