Fanfic 2023 Movie Review
They first met while puking in neighboring stalls. One of the first shots of the movie is from the can cam, with vomit coming right at us, courtesy Tosia (Alin Szewczyk). It’s the first day of school and she narrates how she always feels like throwing up and how she steals her dad’s zoloft because her therapist won’t prescribe it but nothing really works to relieve her pain except the brief escapist respite she gets while writing fanfic and sharing it with other like minds online. The camera takes pains to show the cutting scars on her arms. Then Leon (Jan Cieciara) busts in and barfs and it’s something at first sight. Love, maybe? No, love would be too cut and dried – but it’s not nothing. Leon is the new kid in school, and he has a disarming smile and an air to him that sets him apart a little bit; curiously, he lives on his own and his parents are elsewhere. Tosia has a thing where she throws up not just the contents of her stomach, but rather, walls, to keep everybody out. Approach her, and you’re not likely to be greeted warmly. She has her inner life and her external life and the hot side’s hot and the cool side’s cool.
Tosia’s fanfic really takes off at this point. We see the events of her imaginative writing play out in black-and-white – she’s a scraggly-haired rock star with much more than a passing resemblance to Kurt Cobain, and she writes Leon in as the bassist who dresses like a woman, and the likes and heartmojis and thumbs up roll in. If only real life was as affirming. Her single dad (Dobromir Dymecki) works a lot and Doesn’t Get It. Her therapist gets the biggest, thickest Tosia wall. The school principal is also a teacher and she wears her bigotry like a badge of honor. The kids at school muddle through: Maks (Ignacy Liss) is the rich jerk who antagonizes people for no good reason, although his hardass father might actually be the good reason. Roksana (Agnieszka Rajda) seems OK, but tries too hard to be Tosia’s friend. Emilia (Maja Szopa) appears to be the aloof, popular girl. Everyone thinks Matylda (Wiktoria Kruszczynska) is dumb because she’s pretty, especially the bigot teacher. Konrad (Krzysztof Oleksyn) is queer and out, deal with it.
And then it just kind of… happens. In her fanfic, Tosia always saw herself as a boy. On the way to a party, she gets rained on and Leon gives her some of his clothes to wear. She ditches her skirt and pulls on his jeans and hoodie and it clicks. She smiles. She feels free. She dances and dances with Leon. The next day, she binds her breasts and cuts off her hair and her dad is perplexed. She confesses to him that she steals his pills, and before he can protest, she says they make her not want to hurt herself. That night, she and Leon kiss. Is he gay? Seems to be. Does he want Tosia – or Tosiek? Some kids at school just roll with Tosiek, and a couple don’t, and the shitty principal really doesn’t. There’s cyberbullying, classical bullying, a lunchroom rumble. Tosiek – he’s figuring things out. So is his dad. So is everyone. Just muddling through this thing. Life.
Fanfic doesn’t need the thing in the title. It mostly muddies the narrative, silly scenes cutting in and testing our patience like a neighbor who stops by unannounced and stays longer than you’d like; the reality of these characters is far more compelling than an awkwardly metaphorical fantasy. As the film progresses into its second half, co-writer and director Marta Karwowska tends to lean away from it anyway, to the point where the eventual return of b/w Szewczyk carrying a Fender Jaguar in a ratty Cobain sweater is a jarring distraction.
Beyond that, the movie is a modestly engrossing melodrama with excellent performances by its young cast. Especially Szewczyk – she’s front-and-center in a story that focuses more on Tosiek’s emotional journey than on the socio-political rigamarole of the external world. It’s a warm treatment of topical material, but also a slightly shallow one that touches on many social conflicts of the transgender experience – peer acceptance, parental struggles, the threat of prejudicial violence – that could have been explored with deeper poignancy had the film not burdened itself with the borderline-cutesy “fanfic” gimmick. It’s more welterweight than heavyweight ; it’s also a hopeful story instead of a traumatic one, and all the more endearing for it.