Two smug middle class parents are looking forward to meeting their sons’ new girlfriend. When Jo arrives they are uncertain of their gender identity. Mother sets herself on finding out. What could have been offensive turns sweet. Jo and the son are a loving couple, father supports them and mother is presented as an out of touch antagonist. Trouble is that once things are established there’s nowhere to go. Girl Stroke Boy (or Girl/Boy) is based on a play, full of zingers and comic business, but there’s only enough material for a one act.
Want to learn more? Then read my spoiler filled recap. Trigger warning for the mothers’ bigoted behavior.
Act One: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Scene One: Liberal Parents
PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE (Beloved character actress): Your white son is dating a woman of color?
LETTUCE (A Writer): She’s West Indian! I’m feeling very smug about it. Join us for dinner. I can’t wait to introduce her to all my liberal friends.
GEORGE (Her Husband, a School Headmaster): I always thought our son was gay.
LETTUCE: Don’t be vulgar dear.
Scene Two: The prodigal son
LAURIE (Their shaggy haired son): Good to see you both. Meet Jo.
JO (His partner, a flight attendant): Thank you for inviting me.
LETTUCE: Oh my. I believe Jo is a cis man presenting as a cis woman. Do you think Laurie knows?
GEORGE: Of course dear. I told you he was gay. And Jo’s probably a trans woman or genderqueer.
LETTUCE: Oh stop being so dreadfully woke. We don’t use those terms in 1971!
PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE AND FRIENDS: Knock knock! Your dinner guests are here.
GEORGE: Woof woof! Go away!
PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE AND FRIENDS: What a rude guard dog. I guess this film won’t be needing us
(Patricia Routledge and Friends exit the picture.)
THE END… Not really. But, the story is basically over.
Act Two: Marking Time
Scene Three: That Night
LAURIE: We shouldn’t have come. This film is transphobic.
JO: It’s not so bad. Your father’s all right. What bits she’s left of him.
(They kiss and cuddle. It’s sweet.)
LAURIE: I didn’t think the censors would let us show this much affection.
JO: See? This film wants to be progressive.
LETTUCE: Whatever you’re doing in there… stop!
Scene Four: Breakfast
JO: You’re a Headmaster. You must have met other LGBT+ people at your school.
GEORGE: Of course. Young people will be themselves whether I raise my eyebrows or not.
LAURIE: That’s a good line dad.
GEORGE: This screenplay has a few of them.
LETTUCE: I still disapprove. Of everything! I’m even making casually racist remarks now.
JO: No surprises there.
Act Three: A Little More Plot
Scene Five: Investigation
LETTUCE: I’m going to call Jo’s parents to prove that Jo is not a cis woman!
GEORGE: We established that 40 minutes ago. The audience gets it and you read as too intelligent to act this silly.
LETTUCE: Thank you dear.
(They fumble with the telephone in some unfunny comic business.)
JO’s PARENTS (on the phone): Nice to meet you. Our Jo’s dating your daughter Laurie.
GEORGE: Say Whaaaaaaaaat???
JO’s PARENTS: We assumed Laurie was a girl because of the gender neutral name. That’s the joke. (They hang up.)
LETTUCE: There’s a bible in Jo’s suitcase. “To Joseph, my beloved son.”
GEORGE: If our son is in love with a Jo or a Joseph… does it matter?
LETTUCE: You’d have to resign from the golf club for a start.
Scene Six: Revelations
JO: Why are you holding my brother’s bible?
JO’S PARENTS: Jo, is Laurie a man? That’s ridiculous. When are you going to settle down?
JO: When you die and leave me some money? (Hangs up.)
LAURIE: Harsh. But funny.
LETTUCE: Son? Jo is…
LAURIE: Hasn’t it occurred to you I know who Jo is?
JO: We’re in love. And I didn’t come here to be patronized.
LAURIE: As a matter a fact… Jo and I are married.
JO: What? Oh… yes. Yes it was a lovely wedding.
GEORGE: Congratulations! Your transparent lie means Jo must be a cis woman!
LETTUCE: I don’t follow your logic.
GEORGE: Just go with it. This movie has to end somehow.
JO: And I need a shave.
GEORGE AND LETTUCE: Say Whaaaaaaaaat???
Is this progressive?
It’s no Pose but I was impressed to find a film from 1971 built around a genderqueer, potentially trans, person of color. Peter Straker, billed as Straker here, brings a playfulness to Jo that only drops in the conversation with their parents. In 1972 Straker gave an interview with GayNews where he said the film “wasn’t all bad, although it had many faults… When I read the script it was just hysterical but it didn’t turn out as well as it should have. But it was the chance of a lifetime.” Straker originated roles in the musicals Tommy and Hair and would go on to record music with Freddie Mercury.
It’s unfortunate that the plot gives the agency to Lettuce. Father tries to reason with her while Jo and Laurie roll their eyes and go on about their lives. Joan Greenwood is a classy actress known for playing cunning women in films like Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Importance of Being Earnest and Tom Jones. She brings almost too much intelligence to her willfully ignorant character here.
A few years later the play La Cage Aux Folles would be adapted into a successful film. While the premise is similar the agency is given to the non-straight characters and the farcical complications build steam as the story progresses. Agency is important. The 2019 film Adam has a large trans cast but has drawn criticism for, among other things, giving the agency to a cis straight man. Does a situation comedy set up make it easier to discuss racial, gender and sexual politics with mixed audiences? Or does it flatten the conversation too much to be of use? How could Girl Stroke Boy have given Jo a more active role without giving away Jo’s “secret?” Would the film have benefited from more Patricia Routledge?
Up next: A gay teen meets some pagan spirits in the surreal 1974 film Penda’s Fen.