Sundance film review: "Becoming Chaz"

Mon Jan 24, 2011 2:36pm EST

Chaz Bono poses for a portrait with his girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, while promoting the film Becoming Chaz during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 23, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Chaz Bono poses for a portrait with his girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, while promoting the film Becoming Chaz during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - You can't help but like this guy. Chaz Bono was a male trapped in a female body since birth and endured years of anguish and gender confusion. As if that wasn't debilitating enough, Chaz was the offspring and of Sonny and Cher and paraded around their national primetime hit as their adorable blond-haired daughter.

Buoyed by a resoundingly positive reaction in its world premiere here in Sundance's new Documentary Features section, the film was introduced by Rosie O'Donnell.

"Becoming Chaz" has been selected by Oprah Winfrey to kick-off a documentary component of her new network. It is a brilliant selection and will hit nerves and touch hearts with Oprah's audience. Above all, "Becoming Chaz" is a story of personal hero-ism, the valiant struggle of a sensitive individual to become who he really is.

Told with finesse, compassion and wit by filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, "Becoming Chaz" follows Chaz Bono from the point where he has decided to change his gender. It has been a lifelong and extremely difficult decision for Chaz who recalls straightforwardly on camera years of drug abuse and isolation, all related to his identity confusion and, of course, the added misfortune of growing up in the public eye.

Admittedly, growing up with star parents who utilized their young "daughter" Chastity as an adorably and popular component of their hit series, only exacerbated Chaz's inner confusion and frustrations.

In an era coarsened by the pollution of TV reality series where exhibitionists parade their every peculiarity, "Becoming Chaz" is a real-life look inside the home and hearts of two brave and glorious individuals, Chaz and his long-term girlfriend, Jenny, who suffers her own torments of alcohol abuse. Filmmakers Bailey and Barbato capture their day-to-day lives, and poignantly convey the strength of their love for each other.

As the witty and highly introspective Chaz admits, when you have a relationship where one partner is undergoing a gender change and the other is a substance abuser, there is going to be some outrageously high drama and problems. Yet, in this warm and loving instance, we see the transcendent strength of their love, ever supportive, if never easy.

Blending footage from the "Sonny and Cher Show," interviews and some dead-on self revelations from the two principals, "Becoming Chaz" is a stunning personal and social document.

The film includes interview footage of Cher who struggled with Chaz's decision and stayed away from his life. It was only recently, when she appeared on David Letterman, that she publicly embraced and supported her son's transformation and she has once again re-entered his life, admittedly one step at a time.

Under the guidance of Bailey and Fenton, and nourished by the encouragement and professionals savvy of publicist Howard Bragman, who received an associate producer credit, "Becoming Chaz" is a touching story of bravery as Chaz Bono struggles to become himself.

The production team layered the story with empathy, humor and dignity. Editor Cameron Teisher's flavorful cuts and brisk pacing energized the story, while director of photography Mario Panagiotopoulos' keen eye was scalpel sharp in fleshing out the story's edgings and depth.

(Editing by Zorianna Kit)