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Victoria filmmaker aims to transcend transgender cliché

If there’s one thing we can be sure of when Maureen Bradley wraps Two 4 One it’s that her film featuring a guy who winds up pregnant won’t be confused with Rabbit Test, Joan Rivers’ 1978 dud starring Billy Crystal as a pregnant man.
Maureen Bradley, an associate professor at UVic, is making her feature film debut as a writer-director with Two 4 One, a romantic comedy about a woman undergoing a sex change who ends up pregnant while transitioning to life as a man.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of when Maureen Bradley wraps Two 4 One it’s that her film featuring a guy who winds up pregnant won’t be confused with Rabbit Test, Joan Rivers’ 1978 dud starring Billy Crystal as a pregnant man.

While both men find themselves in this predicament following a one-night stand, the similarities end there.

Rabbit Test was an ill-advised comedy best forgotten. Chances are Two 4 One, however, will become a movie to be remembered, chiefly because of the way Bradley puts an offbeat comic spin on a hot topic — gender confusion.

The writer-director’s bittersweet romantic-comedy “in the tradition of Woody Allen and Billy Wilder, but with a modern twist” focuses on two oddballs — Adam and Miriam, his ex-girlfriend he helps artificially inseminate — who both wind up pregnant.

Adam, transitioning from female-to-male, is a transgendered dude with a dilemma. Should he settle down and have this baby, or just become one of the guys? It’s complicated, but there’s comic potential.

“Hey, he still has a uterus!” laughs Bradley, an associate professor in UVic’s Department of Writing whose sense of humour belies her concerns about unfounded hatred and fear of transgender individuals.

The queer filmmaker lectured on the topic Wednesday, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, at Cinecenta before a screening of Melting Away, a touching Israeli drama about a transsexual teenager kicked out of his own home.

Hollywood has made great strides in acknowledging gender diversity in films like Boys Don’t Cry, Kinky Boots and Orlando, the sumptuous adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel in which a strikingly androgynous Tilda Swinton plays an Elizabethan-era nobleman who morphs into a noblewoman.

Bradley laments characters with gender identity issues are too often caricatures (Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, anyone?) or psychos, however.

“They’re the punchline,” she says. “You can be gay on Friends, but you can’t have real sexuality. You can just be a stuffed toy.”

Notable exceptions include Tomboy, the 2011 French film about an androgynous 10-year-old girl mistaken for a boy. It was a lovely, tender portrait of adolescent sexual confusion.

Bradley says she’s heartened by the success of films and TV shows like Orange is the New Black, starring transgender actress Laverne Cox as transgender prison inmate Sophie Burset, a former fireman; and Transamerica, starring Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman as a male-to-female transsexual.

“Transamerica was a game-changer,” Bradley says. “We don’t usually see [transsexuals] as real characters.”

She also credits female-to-male transsexual Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars as a breakthrough.

Says Bradley: “I think audiences are ready to see more transgendered people as three-dimensional people with lives.”

Partly because “the whole artificial-insemination subculture is so huge” and that the number of people getting pregnant later in life has risen, Bradley says she’s convinced Two 4 One, to be filmed here in February, has crossover potential.

Telefilm Canada, funding almost half of her $250,000 feature debut, and funders including the B.C. Arts Council and National Screen Institute apparently agree.

Producer Daniel Hogg is also looking for investors — “hopefully someone passionate about the subject” — to augment funds raised during an online crowdfunding campaign that ends Dec. 1.

Their goal on is $20,000, with $13,800 raised so far.

“I think it’s an idea that sells itself,” says Hogg, confident it will appeal to the LGBT demographic and a broader audience.

Bradley says part of her motivation is a desire to transcend clichéd narratives about gays coming out.

“That gets tired pretty fast,” she said. “We haven’t seen a lot of films that show how life for many people starts after transition.”

To illustrate how Hollywood legend Billy Wilder inspired her, Bradley points to The Apartment, his 1960 classic starring Jack Lemmon as an ambitious office worker who lends his apartment to his philandering boss (Fred MacMurray) for illicit trysts.

“It’s one of the first romantic comedies in a style I like where it’s not just a silly thing, but about people facing challenges,” she says. “I mean, there’s a suicide attempt. It’s such a beautiful film. It ages really well.”

Admitting “I reluctantly watch rom-coms,” Bradley says she’s also a fan of Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, and his classics including Manhattan and Annie Hall.

“I was weaned on these,” she said. “There’s a romance and a couple who break apart and maybe come together again.”

While casting continues for her four leads and 10 day players, including “a 65-year-old Québécois woman,” she confirmed Naomi Snieckus, the writer, actor (Being Erica) and comedian has been cast as Miriam.

The crowd-funding proceeds will be used in part to transport, house and feed actors during the 15-day shoot, she said.