It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The first shot is disconcerting. The camera is close to a wind-swept head and shoulders floating through space and backdropped by sky, clouds and trees. We're eventually shown that this is a child standing up through a car's open sunroof. Because the title "Tomboy" gives it away, we know this person with the close-cropped hair is a girl. Otherwise, there's no telling; she's 10, that pre-adolescent age when many children seem suspended between genders.
She has moved with her father, her little sister and her pregnant mother into a new neighborhood where they know nobody. Not shy but certainly reticent, she hangs on the edge of a small group of kids about her age. A friendly girl named Lisa (Jeanne Disson) asks for her name — using the French pronoun that suggests she expects to hear a male name. "Mikael," says the newcomer. In a second, she has become a boy and will be one all summer.
Celine Sciamma's "Tomboy" would have been impossible without the casting of Zoe Heran in the title role. She isn't a masculine-looking girl or a feminine-looking boy. She is fresh, attractive, open-faced. If you think you're looking at a boy, you see one. If a girl, then that's what you see. The movie doesn't have a trace of gimmick to it; it's perfectly straightforward.
The heroine's real name is Laure. There is so much love and happiness in her home, you can hardly believe it. She isn't a tortured or mistreated child; she and her little sister, Jeanne (Malonn Levana), adore each other. Her parents (Sophie Cattani and Mathieu Demy) are playfully in love, the unborn child is already a member of the family, and Laure whispers "secrets" to her. In this safe garden suburb, she spends her days outdoors, on playgrounds or in the woods or at a pond, hanging out with the others, who accept her. These aren't the mean and sadistic little creatures we sometimes find in the movies, but nice, cheerful kids. They like her. Him, I mean.