The title “Boy Meets Girl” suggests a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, and at first the movie appears to be just that. A 20-something man and woman, longtime best friends, hang out at a coffee shop and give each other a hard time. He’s an avowed lothario and she’s lamenting the dearth of relationship-focused guys. Both are beautiful, so of course you set your stopwatch for how long it’ll take these two to just fall for each other already.
But the movie, from writer-director Eric Schaeffer (“If Lucy Fell”), isn’t quite so straightforward. You see, the young woman, Ricky (Michelle Hendley), is transgender. She was born with male equipment and, although she hopes to one day change that, has more important things to save up for — like moving to New York, where she wants to become a fashion designer.
Until then, Ricky is stuck in her home town, somewhere in Kentucky, working as a barista and perpetually shooting the breeze with her best buddy since first grade, Robby (Michael Welch), an easygoing, good-old-boy mechanic.
But their routine is disrupted by the arrival of Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), who wanders into the coffee shop one day and falls for Ricky. At first Ricky writes her off as a stereotype — a rich, conservative Southern belle. But, despite her occasional cluelessness, Francesca is warm and open-hearted, even if she does think that being transgender is a communicable disease. The two become more than friends, and confusion quickly ensues. Neither Ricky nor Francesca has had a relationship with a woman, and Francesca happens to be engaged to a Marine stationed in Afghanistan.
The transgender experience has been getting its due recently in pop culture, between the Golden Globe-winning Amazon series “Transparent,” about a transitioning baby boomer, and Netflix’s acclaimed “Orange Is the New Black,” which features transgender actress Laverne Cox. “Boy Meets Girl,” too, stars a transgender actress. Schaeffer discovered Hendley on YouTube and, despite a lack of experience, she brings a low-key naturalism to her portrayal, despite clunky dialogue and too-convenient plot twists.
“Boy Meets Girl” comes across not just as an emotional story, but also an earnestly instructive one. The director wants to make sure the audience walks away with no questions about life as transgender, which can be entertaining — as when Ricky and Robby have conversations about what it feels like to bed a woman — and deeply affecting, such as when Ricky literally lays herself bare, emerging from a lake entirely naked. Often, it feels conspicuously educational.
The movie is far better when it focuses on its intimate story of love between family and friends in a small town. The sweet crux of the movie can be summed up in one back-and-forth between Francesca and Ricky after their first romantic encounter. Francesca wonders aloud if falling for a woman with a penis means she’s gay. “It has to make me something,” she says. Ricky doesn’t skip a beat: “Human?” she replies.
Unrated. At Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains strong language, nudity and sexual situations. 95 minutes.