The pilot episode profiles lives, relationships, and a world in change and adjustment.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.)
Writer-director Theda Hammel’s new series My Trip to Spain is about the precipices of transition. Her character Alexis is leaving one place for another just as she’s leaving one face for another. And all of this cocooning and emergence is unfolding against the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic wrought changes.
While Alexis is away in Spain getting surgery, she figures she’ll multitask. Her neighbor/ gardener/ handyman Bruno (Gordon Landenberger) will be coming by to fix a few things around the house. This continues to build the theme of metamorphosis; even the home is mid-transition.
In order to have someone around to let in Bruno and take care of a few other maintenance tasks, she’s invited her friend Charlie (Search Party‘s John Early) to housesit. However, Charlie’s arrival does not prove celebratory. The moment he walks through the door, both Alexis and the audience can feel the tension.
Hammel’s Alexis is raw, a contemporary transwoman living in contemporary times. There’s an honesty to My Trip to Spain that marks it as yet another clear example of the benefits of empowering people to tell their own stories. Without transfolk behind this pilot, it would not achieve the same kind of truthfulness. There is no pretense. These are lived-in motivations and drives.
Charlie fervently doesn’t think Alexis should go through with her surgery. Unable to hold his tongue, he tells his friend precisely that. What follows is an impassioned inter-queer conversation about framing so-called “cosmetic” surgery as a necessity for some transwomen. Despite Spain’s short thirty-minute runtime, Hammel brilliantly captures the conflict in all its difficulty and discomfort.
It takes a certain kind of bravery to play the judgemental voice in this type of personal diary series, but John Early plays Charlie with great courage. His argument with Hammel is a bold red-faced delivery we rarely get to see from him. Early’s signature comedic pulls are still there, but we get to see delightful turns at being dramatic, serious, angry, and sexy in the pilot.
Hammel’s Alexis is raw, a contemporary transwoman living in contemporary times.
Immediately, Charlie thirsts after Bruno, and it’s obvious why. Gordon Landenberger is not only good-looking but also able to display heart-melting earnestness. Watching him describe the composting process oblivious to Charlie’s true intentions is a brilliant sketch in dramatic irony. Against Early’s more clownish delivery, Landenberger plays it “straight,” creating an uncertain attraction between the two that will no doubt awkwardly dance itself out as the series goes on.
Told with wry, anxious, and exhausted narration, the series feels like a memoir of events queerly between past and present. Yet, there’s a sense that the series will transition into something else with its well-laid emotional and sexual tension. Let’s see if it’s allowed to board the plane and take off or if it will be like Alexis and have to find another way to complete its journey.