REVIEW: ‘Fanfic’ Weaves Wonderful, Imperfect Queer Joy

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Fanfic — But Why Tho

Poland is among the worst European countries to be queer in. Its legal rights for queer people are virtually non-existent and as a society, public opinion on queer existence, especially trans existence is abhorrent. This is a background that you have to judge Fanfic against to fully understand its power. A Polish-language Netflix Original directed by Marta Karwowska and written by Karwowska and Grzegorz Jaroszuk, Fanfic, in so many ways, is exactly the kind of queer representation I wish I could have had growing up. At the same time, the movie itself is fairly unremarkable with some total dissonance and stylistic choices that take away from the overall experience.

Tośka (Alin Szewczyk) is the odd kid out in school, but when he meets Leon (Jan Cieciara), he becomes immediately infatuated in a way that he can’t fully understand. After putting on some boys’ clothes in a pitch, it becomes immediately clear to Tośka that he’s a trans boy. What is far less immediately clear is whether he’s attracted to Leon, whether Leon is attracted to him, whether his dad will ever understand, and whether the other kids in school will either.

I feel like most of the time, even when you’re watching a good queer teen movie, the main characters are still tokens. They’re not surrounded by other queer kids or living in a world that reflects today where a lot of kids, especially in places where it’s safe to be out, are simply just casually queer. I can’t speak to what it’s like to go to school in Poland and whether this rings true, but as an American watching Fanfic, seeing the constant casual and explicit queerness side by side throughout the whole movie is essential to its sense of safety and honesty. The movie is about being sure of who you are but trying to dig deeper than that to really understand what that means, and being festooned by queerness all around helps make that exploration at all possible.

The teenage antics of bullying, getting into fights with partners, and realizing you’re being a bad friend are all there and all fine. There are some moments of great payoff when people get their comeuppance, characters realize they’ve been wrong and change, or gang up against a terrible teacher, but outside of these triumphant movie moments, the many threads of characters and relationships among the group of teens in the movie often feel cut short. I doubt the movie could have successfully squeezed more out of these characters given the runtime already left me feeling like there were several natural ending points before the disappointingly corny final moments rolled by. But I at least liked them all for what roles they served and what moments they gave.

The weakest points in Fanfic, though, are when it’s trying to be too cute by half. The fanfic that Tośka writes at the beginning turns into a series of asides that visually do an awesome job of showing what his perception of himself and Leon is like. But in practice, the scenes are over the top, often confusing, and just don’t match the more sincere tone the rest of the movie goes for. The movie also has text that appears like journal entries around Tośka now and again and has one very out-of-place scene with a giant heart that, on their own, are all fine elements but just feel a bit like clashing patterns when combined with the already tonally desperate teen comedy versus queer dramatic the movie can’t seem to decide between.

But Fanfic shines its best whenever it’s taking those deeper dives into questions of transness, queerness, and attraction. The relationship between Tośka and his dad is one that initially concerned me. It seemed like it may have been possible for it to fall into a traumatic relationship, but instead, it ends up becoming one of the sweetest parts of the movie. Again, this is a Polish film, so all of the ways the dad pushes outside of typical masculinity are wonderful, from being emotionally vulnerable to being a single dad trying to make friends and do right by his kid, to the ways he tries to be there for Tośka even though he struggles to understand what he’s going through.

The one thread I wish the movie could have followed between the two of them, but that I’m also glad it didn’t is Tośka’s drug dependence. The movie opens with some dramatic scenes regarding his stealing anti-depressants from his dad, but after culminating a terrifying scene, we never hear about or think about the medication again. Because of some odd lines early on, it feels like, to a degree, the movie is trying to make a statement that if you have support and can achieve gender bliss you won’t need to take meds and that meds are bad. Even if this isn’t the movie’s intention, it’s strange that such an important element never comes up again after the first act. On the other hand, I’m glad they don’t, because the likelihood they would have led down the trauma path is high, and I’m appreciative that on the whole, Fanfic is more about finding joy than it is about the pain of getting there.

As a final point, this movie addresses the selfishness of coming out in a really powerful way. From the beginning, the fan fiction in question is a self-insert. And inherently, you want your coming out to be selfish. You want people to see and acknowledge you, your truth, or your pain. But Fanfic is great at pointing out that even when you’re writing your own narrative, which you should be, you’re still not the main character in everyone else’s story. It’s a clear message that everyone, but especially queer folks, is better off in community and solidarity than in selfishness and loneliness.

Fanfic is a great queer movie, it’s just not a great movie, movie. The way it depicts and explores gender, identity, sexuality, and attraction is awesome not just for a Polish product but as a teen movie period. It’s just held back by some tonal dissonance, creative choices that don’t land, a few too many moments where I was trauma-baited, and an ending that had me roll my eyes after crying a few minutes earlier. But even still, this one is well worth the watch for its matter-of-fact approach to coming out, a great parent-child relationship, and a huge screw you to a terrible teacher.

Fanfic is streaming now on Netflix.

Fanfic Review
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10


Fanfic is a great queer movie, it’s just not a great movie, movie. But even still, this one is well worth the watch for its matter-of-fact approach to coming out, a great parent-child relationship, and a huge screw you to a terrible teacher.

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