Talk about a pair of romantic underdogs. That would be Martine Stonehouse and John Gelmon, whose one-of-a-kind relationship is the focus of "Transfixed," an engrossing and deeply felt documentary that proves, once again, that love conquers all.
Director Alon Kol tracked his Toronto-based subjects from 2009 to 2014 as they navigated a cascade of emotional, physical, economic and sociopolitical challenges in an effort to find true happiness and become husband and wife.
The transgender Martine (born Martin), an activist and high school caretaker, is pursuing sexual reassignment surgery to live more fully as a woman and satisfy the straight-identifying John. Both are living with Asperger's syndrome; school bus driver John also has Tourette's syndrome. Theirs is a stacked deck, to say the least.
Martine was thwarted in her quest for years by the Ontario provincial government's healthcare system, which, in 1998, removed sexual reassignment surgery from its list of covered services. By 2008, when coverage was reinstated, Martine's obesity and attendant health issues limited her viability as a candidate for the operation.
Martine's search for a doctor who will work with her, her bravery in the face of the potentially fatal surgery and her subsequent recuperation provide an effective, ticking clock-like tension.
Kol largely avoids reality TV-type pitfalls, keeping us rooting for Martine and John throughout. (OK, maybe Kol has some ironic fun with Martine's poor eating habits.) It helps that the film's stars are sincere, well-intended folks just trying to stay afloat. The film also hammers home the real-world hardships of a transgender life when one lacks the financial resources of, say, a Caitlyn Jenner.
The result is a sensitively wrought profile in courage, hope and self-respect that's truly transfixing.
Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes