Gil Baroni’s Alice Júnior is a neon pink filled delight that stylishly puts the T in teen movie. The dynamic, fast-paced opening sequence, with some great aerial shots by cinematographer Renato Ogata, immediately takes us into the coastal city of Recife in North Eastern Brazil and into the bedroom of the charismatic and self-assured titular trans social media star, and Next Teen Top Model finalist, as she introduces herself to anyone who’s somehow been sleeping on her popular YouTube channel. Alice (Anne Celestino Mota) is hoping to lose her “kissing virginity” on an upcoming cinema date with a boy she has a crush on at high school when her life is abruptly turned upside down. Her single parent father, Jean Genet (Emmanuel Rosset), must temporarily relocate to a rural conservative town in the South in order to create a new fragrance using the rare pine cones that grow there, forcing Alice to enrol in a co-ed Catholic school.
On the first morning of school, Alice descends the stairs of her new home She’s All That-style looking fierce in pink, ready to make a statement and to face her new reality head on. It’s not long though before she’s misgendered and ordered to wear the boys’ uniform by the wicked school principal (Cida Rolim), who’s stylised as a fairy tale villain amid a drab, often prison like environment. As you might expect Alice encounters further transphobia at the traditional school—a commentary on the rightward, anti-LGBTQ shift of Brazilian politics under Bolsonaro—both from the staff and students. She’s prevented from using the girls’ bathroom by two school bullies, and when the teachers call out the class register, all but one of them—the warm (and rather dashing) Professor Marcelo (Marcel Szymanski)—refuse to refer to her as Alice (a name she chose because her late mother used to read Alice in Wonderland to her). When Alice spots a gay guy in her class wearing a cute hat, Lino (Igor Augustho), she attempts to befriend him but he doesn’t want anything to do with her for fear it’ll draw attention to himself. That doesn’t stop her from physically sticking up for him though. Fortunately Alice receives a more enthusiastic welcome from the school’s social media obsessed and rather overbearing, but well-meaning Viviane (Thaís Schier), along with the rebellious cool kid Taísa (Surya Amitrano), who shows Alice her new secret tattoo, and her charming, laidback boyfriend Bruno (Matheus Moura), a talented beatboxer, whom Alice immediately falls hard for when he photobombs her selfie.
A phenomenal central performance by Anna Celestino Mota, making her screen acting debut, is enhanced by the visual language of the film, beautifully shot, with some effective use of emoji-like neon pink details and text on screen that illustrate Alice’s reactions. Confident in who she is as a trans teen, the only issues in her life come when her resilience is tested by the ignorance and bigotry she encounters. One sequence is particularly hard to watch when some high school boys, led by Guilherme (Gustavo Piaskoski) who has a personal vendetta against Alice, attempt to humiliate her at a pool party, but it results in a touching show of solidarity from her friends. The loving and accepting relationship between Alice and her eccentric father (adorably played by Emmanuel Rosset, also making an impressive screen debut), is at the heart of the film and helps to counter balance the traumatic episodes which we witness Alice having to deal with. Some time is also set aside for Jean’s romantic experiences which, without taking the focus away from Alice, inject some additional quirky humour. There’s also some unconditional love from Alice’s feline friend, her cute tabby cat Rinoceronta (Rhinoceros).
Screenwriter Luiz Bertazzo had originally planned Alice Júnior as a television series, and following the film’s festival awards recognition, and the fact that it is now streaming on Netflix in Brazil, perhaps a spin-off will happen. At just under 90 mins, the film is a vibrant, endlessly charming feel-good watch, with the heightened vibe of a graphic novel adaptation at times and a slight fantasy tinge that gives Alice a lowkey superhero quality, her superpower being her belief in herself. Meanwhile the movie’s energetic soundtrack adds to its appealing buoyancy, with the lyrics often echoing what Alice is going through. As far as teen coming of age movies go it’s a contemporary, social media infused riff on some of the classics of the genre with its own distinctive flavour, that delivers an engaging, loveable and inspiring central character.
By James Kleinmann
Alice Júnior played this year’s NewFest the New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival and has been selected as the closing night film of London’s 10th Fringe! Queer Film Fest on November 15th. It’s currently streaming on Netflix in Brazil.