Ambiguity isn’t always a positive thing in cinema. Sometimes a certain level of obscurity allows an audience to interpret a film by bringing their own experiences to the piece, but crafting a film that is too open to interpretation can quickly become fraught with peril as the production loses its sense of direction and purpose. This is where Girls Lost steers itself wrong. There’s a lot of potential in this story for pointed commentary and character study, but it never fully capitalizes on it.
Three teenage girls, Kim, Momo, and Bella, are outcasts at their school, constantly harassed and assaulted by boys as allowed by apathetic teachers. The three have an interest in the occult, and one night discover a flower that drips a nectar with a very special property: It temporarily transforms them into boys. As they revel in not being recognized and actually accepted into their town’s masculine social circles, Kim comes to realize that they—I use the pronoun “they” because Kim’s gender is somewhat ambiguous—are more comfortable as a boy, and soon Kim becomes addicted to the transformation. This places a strain on the trio’s friendships as Kim (in boy mode) seeks the companionship of a troubled ruffian named Tony.
What Girls Lost achieves better than many films with transgender characters is its presentation of gender dysphoria. Even before Kim and their friends discover the transformative flower, they confess to Momo that they feel like a different person inside than who is presented on the outside. They don’t feel the world sees them for who they truly are, and as they explore masculinity it causes strain on the relationships they have with their closest friends. Bella and Momo seem to have defined their relationships with Kim as being a group of outcast girls, but Kim’s embrace of masculinity feels like a betrayal to what made their friendship special. It’s a pretty accurate take on how transgender people can lose those closest to them when the dynamics of a long-held relationship suddenly seem to change.
However, Girls Lost doesn’t quite go far enough as to have much in the way of commentary on this experience. Long swaths of time are spent in montage and with minimal expositional dialogue, which would be fine if the direction did more to communicate with the audience through visual cues, but it doesn’t. This culminates in a third act that raises more thematic questions than it does answers. Does the film want us to feel that Kim is outcast for being who they are and so must run away to discover themselves? Or does the film want us to blame Kim for their selfishness in pursuing their gender identity at the cost of their dearest relationships? With another subject matter that open-endedness might be thought-provoking, but with an issue as ill-understood as transgenderism it functions as a difference between the film’s messaging being sympathetic or dehumanizing.
I really wanted to like Girls Lost as a piece of empathetic cinema toward a community that doesn’t receive much empathy from society at large, but if empathy was the goal it didn’t quite hit the mark. The right of a transgender character to explore their identity should not be a playground of moral ambiguity while real transgender people are often blamed and shunned by their loved ones for simply being who they are. The premise of the film is rife with potential. It’s just a shame that in execution it couldn’t find the moral grounding to make a worthwhile point.