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Post-Op Punk

Different for Girls
Hot Under the Collar: Angela (Nisha K. Nayar) can't figure out why her boyfriend, Paul (Rupert Graves), is acting so confused about the opposite sex.

A sex change bewilders an aging punker in 'Different for Girls'

By Richard von Busack

THE OLD JOE JACKSON song that lends Different for Girls its title sums up the New Wave nostalgia of director Richard Spence's British import. Londoner Paul Prentice (Rupert Graves) is the last of the punk rockers. At 34, Paul is still living for the music of the Buzzcocks--who show up in a concert scene to play "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen in Love With)?" The question is more pertinent than ever. The scruffy Paul, barely holding down a job as a delivery person, has indeed started to fall for someone from his past. The falling is quite literal. Paul is knocked right off his motorcycle by a taxi. Inside the taxi is an old friend from his school days, Kim Foyle (Steven Mackintosh), who has had a sex change since Prentice saw him last. As we see from a sequence before the titles, back when Kim was named Karl, he and Paul were the least-loved students in their school. They've grown apart since then.

The clever angle of Tony Marchant's script is that the gulf between Kim and Paul doesn't exist just because Paul must struggle to accept Kim's new gender--the plain fact is that the two live utterly different lives. Paul is the type of man who is his own worst enemy, always ready to escalate any confrontation into a fight or an arrest. By contrast, Kim says, "I've spent the last four years being careful." He lives in a filthy studio apartment; she lives in an antiseptic condo and works as a greeting-card writer. Kim is also not so fond of the music of yesterday as Paul is. She says, "I liked the sound, I was just never so keen on the fury." Drawn to Kim, Paul fights the urge, saying (as if to convince himself), "I'm straight." To which Kim replies, "So am I."

The subplot, about the unsteady marriage of Kim's sister, Jean (Saskia Reeves), must have been meant as a worst-case scenario of how Kim might find her new life as a woman--Jean has taken to the old womanly ways of stealth and secrecy. Still, it doesn't fit in with the rest of the story; it seems to be padding. Just as problematic, the contrast between the two leads is almost too great. Paul's punk-rock screwing up and Kim's demureness have to be held together with only a couple of flashbacks. There are times when Paul's life is so chaotic, you wonder why anyone sane would get involved with him. But Different for Girls is certainly a romance with difference. The film isn't coy or smirking about the technical details of how sex changes are achieved, and this backhanded approach to memorializing the punk-rock life is smart. The old tunes come back to you without that sense of violation that happens when you see a good song used in a bad movie.

Different for Girls (R; 101 min.), directed by Richard Spence, written by Tony Marchant, photographed by Sean Van Hales and starring Rupert Graves and Steven Mackintosh.

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From the Sept. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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