One of the most fundamental aspects of movies is that they allow us to walk in someone else's shoes for a couple of hours. That ability to help us identify with others – to see what makes us alike despite outward differences – is a valuable commodity, especially in today's world. The Garden Left Behind is a fine example of what I'm talking about. The story revolves around a trans woman and it depicts some of the struggles she goes through. At the same time, there's a universality to the movie because, like all of us, she's just trying to find happiness in life. Pictures like this can help break down the walls of prejudice.
Carlie Guevara gives a winning performance as Tina, a young Mexican trans woman living in a cramped apartment with her grandmother Eliana (Miriam Cruz). Tina wants to completely transition, although it's not an easy task. First, she has to be evaluated by psychologist Dr. Cleary (Ed Asner). Then she's got to find a way to pay for the surgery. Eliana's subtle disapproval is a factor, as well. Tina joins an activist group to cope, and gets a job as a bartender for the owner (Michael Madsen) of a local bar. Through it all, we come to sense that she is simply trying to be true to herself. She's a good person who does no harm to anyone, yet feels (perhaps justifiably) that the world is working against her to a degree.
The Garden Left Behind is a poignant slice-of-life movie. There's not a conventional three-act plot. Instead, we simply walk alongside Tina for a while, observing the issues she must contend with, including harassment from some punks who loiter around her neighborhood. The situations feel real. More than that, they generate empathy. Here is a woman who is good to her grandmother, has friends and loved ones, and works hard. We identify with her on those levels. In another way, the film also provides some insight into what members of the trans community go through, specifically the kind of judgement that comes from only seeing a label rather than the entirety of the person. Director Flavio Alves shows us the entire person.
If anything, The Garden Left Behind could have gone even deeper. It runs just 88 minutes; another 15 or 20 more fully exploring the interactions between Tina and Dr. Cleary, or between her and her grandmother, would have taken everything to another level. Regardless, enough about the movie engages to make it a compassionate, affecting indie.
out of four
The Garden Left Behind is unrated, but contains adult language, sexuality, and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.