“It’s taking everything I’ve got as a man to become a woman,” declares Janae Marie Kroc (nee Kroczaleski), the subject of the remarkable documentary “Transformer.” The film follows her journey as she sheds her old identity as Matt, a world record-holding powerlifter and bodybuilder, and steps fully into life as Janae. Directed by Michael Del Monte, it’s an intimate portrait of a person reckoning with their past while preparing for the future.
The Kroczaleski family grants Del Monte close access to observe moments that are tough and tender in equal measure, whether that’s Janae’s close relationship with her three understanding sons, or navigating the rocky road toward acceptance from her parents.
The film is a fascinating exploration of our bodies as our selves — how we can shape, sculpt and alter our physicality to change perception and treatment from others. Matt used bodybuilding as a form of protection, to convey power. But that muscle mass doesn’t serve the femininity that Janae wants to express, as she works toward living life every day as a woman. The shifting perceptions of others are the hardest to navigate, especially from fans who know Matt as the ultimate strong, masculine man.
We can try to control our bodies, to inject and pump, and slim and bulk them, but we can’t control our desires and beliefs in who we are. We can’t erase the past. “Transformer” beautifully captures the process of Janae crafting her own sense of femininity, unique to who she was and who she continues to be.
Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 19, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD