Lola And The Sea ****
Starring: Mya Bollaers, Benoît Maginel, Sami Outalbali
Director: Laurent Micheli
There’s something about a road trip movie that just works. When a character goes on a journey while literally on a journey, this double-narrative device rarely fails. Back in 2005, Transamerica was Oscar-nominated for its story of a trans parent crossing America with her cis-gender son. Now, Lola And The Sea follows a cis-gender parent crossing Belgium with his trans daughter. But despite this feeling of déjà-vu, this formula feels neither tired nor old.
Teenage Lola (Bollaers) was kicked out of her home by her father, Philippe (Maginel - The Piano Teacher, Little White Lies) because she is trans and now lives with her devoted boyfriend (Outabali - Sex Education). When she receives news that her mother has died, she returns to the family home to confront her estranged father, furious that she missed the final days of her illness. When she realises that he intends to scatter the ashes at the coast, she forces herself in his car and refuses to leave. Together, albeit reluctantly, they travel across the country and slowly begin to heal the deep rift in their relationship.
Ignoring the geographic distance that they cross (it only takes a couple of hours to cross Belgium from top to bottom, after all), the metaphoric distance they travel together is huge. Lola is a damaged young lady, whose fury has manifest itself through a cold, hard exterior and rebellious pink hair. Philippe is abrasive, stoic and conservative, refusing to accept his daughter’s gender identity. In one scene, he has to have it spelled out to him that Lola’s identity could not possibly be her just being awkward and “acting out”. In terms of great obstacles along their way, Philippe is the greatest of them all.
This is a film about mutual understanding and familial reconciliation. It covers everything in the road trip genre like a checklist (wise strangers - check; spontaneous pitstops - check; claustrophobic arguments in the car - check and check again), but the film is executed flawlessly and rests on two dependably strong performances from its leads. Mya Bollaers is charming as the titular Lola, while French veteran Benoît Maginel delivers a compellingly difficult but human performance as the grieving father forced to challenge his world view.
A moving portrait of a broken relationship, there is enough heartstring-plucking afoot to make you root for this disparate pair. Despite covering all-too-familiar territory, this is a road trip to remember and will make you wonder whether that pastel pink dye-job you were contemplating was such a bad idea, after all.
UK Release: 17th December 2021 in cinemas and VOD, released by Peccadillo Pictures.