The idea behind Under My Skin is far better than the execution. David O’Donnell’s new film has layered visuals and a raw story about one person’s struggle with gender. A key creative choice blocked me from identifying with its mixed messages: the central character is played throughout by entirely different actors. When young musician Denny (played first by Liv Hewson, then 3 other times by Chloe Freeman, Lex Ryan, and Bobbi Salvor Menuez) falls for adorkable lawyer Ryan (Alex Russell), their relationship quickly blossoms into something beautiful. Denny questions their gender, putting this love to the ultimate test.
It’s hard to connect with the romance due to the constantly rotating roster of people playing the lead character. I adored the first 20 minutes or so; undoubtedly, Liv Hewson and Alex Russell have strong chemistry together. An adorable moment where Ryan scoops Denny up and brings them to his bedroom really highlights their cute love. I found it frustrating that this first segment is so strong, yet what follows is a little lackluster. The message and themes (and script itself) are great, but there’s a cold distance between the romance that doesn’t feel quite right. Each of the leads are non-binary actors playing a non-binary character, a choice that brings an authenticity in intention to the approach. I suppose Under My Skin is trying to say that Denny is still the same person underneath all the physical changes. This very idea seemed antithetical to the changes she’s trying to make, and left me feeling like casting different actors was a bad choice.
Under My Skin played as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, March 31st-April 10, 2021.