“Transhood” is fixated on transition, and therefore preoccupied with time, or at least that seems to be its intention. The HBO documentary, which follows four transgender and gender-nonconforming children in Kansas City, Mo., over five years, races through their changing and evolving understanding of themselves, with barely a moment to catch its breath.
Many scenes are fleeting and shorn of a more contemplative approach not only to transgender identity, but also to childhood more broadly. Part of the film’s goal is to frame these kids as just kids: rowdy, hyper, moody.
For younger, more rambunctious subjects like Avery (7 at the beginning of filming in 2014) and the gender-fluid Phoenix (4), the camera often has to chase them, making it difficult to capture in a cohesive way how they personally explore their gender identity. Even over five years, observations about them remain shallow. But the older subjects Jay (12), who has to negotiate being out as transgender at school, and Leena (15), an aspirational model, land as more engaging. They’re old enough to speak for themselves and tell their own stories.
With so much ground to cover, the scenes’ shortness can feel unsatisfying and even occasionally facile. Though conversations between parents and their children are designed to be emotional beats, there’s a peculiar staginess that comes off as jarring at times.
Directed by Sharon Liese, the movie hints at more thoughtful threads, like looking at the obstacles of insurance coverage or negotiating how to distance oneself from internet fame. But if it aims to mimic Richard Linklater’s time-stretching “Boyhood” in its observations of change both large and small, those efforts fall short.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.
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