THE GARDEN LEFT BEHIND (2020)
Carlie Guevara, Michael Madsen, Edward Asner, Danny Flaherty, Alex Kruz, Bernadette Quigley, Miriam Cruz, Dawn Young, Anthony Abdo, Brock Yurich, Tamara Williams
Directed by Flavio Alves
“The Garden Left Behind” may not break new ground but director Flavio Alves has his heart in the right place with a moving story that tackles the struggles of the trans community portrayed in the film by trans actors including newcomer Carlie Guevara in her acting debut. Co-written by John Rotondo and featuring cameos by Michael Madsen and Edward Asner, the film’s important message comes at a time when violence against transgender people, especially women of color, is on the rise.
Tina (Carlie Guevara) drives a New York City cab in order to provide for herself and her grandmother or “abuelita” Eliana (Miriam Cruz) who still calls her granddaughter Antonio. The elderly matriarch doesn’t understand the reason behind Tina’s transitioning, but she supports her, nonetheless. The two are undocumented immigrants in search of the American dream. Tina is saving up her money for gender reassignment surgery, although without insurance the cost is astronomical and may be out of reach, while Eliana is disillusioned by the prospects of the future and ready to move back to Mexico.
Alves did plenty of research for the film with active participation by the trans community who helped shape Tina’s character. Hollywood is known for casting cisgender actors in trans roles for films that include “The Danish Girl,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” and “Transamerica,” but with "Garden" the director sought out trans actors for the trans roles. It’s a commendable move that brings authenticity to the table but also the lack of experience by many of the first-time actors leads to stiff dialogue and forced emotions.
The film features cameos by Ed Asner as a psychologist working with Tina to make sure she’s mentally prepared for the transition and Michael Madsen as a sympathetic bar owner who gives her a job as a bartender. Their presence balances out the indie film whose purpose is to remind viewers about the discrimination and hate crimes against the LGBTQ community especially trans men and women of color.
“The Garden Left Behind” is beautifully shot by cinematographer Koshi Kiyokawa and despite the lack of groundbreaking material, it still delivers a powerful message of acceptance. Carlie Guevara’s engaging performance centers the moving film with it's strong message.