Bending the Roles: 12 Best Gender Switching Films

People dressing up as the other gender? Isn’t that strange? Maybe, it depends on one’s point of view.

There are many different and often overlooked categories of movies. One of them is the gender-bender. It has nothing to do with Aang or Korra. Although, that might be an interesting and funny concept for a parody. These stories are not set out to explore the character’s sexual orientation, but provide an opportunity for the character to either achieve a goal that was unobtainable in their present state or to provide a teaching moment. Even the most serious of these stories always presents moments to satirize, or poke fun at, mainstream society and the views and values it places on the genders.

These characters are by no means, transvestites or cross-dressers. It is a form of storytelling which began as a type of comedy. It mainly plays up or satirizes the differences between the sexes through one character’s experiences as the opposite sex. The means of obtaining those experiences is varied. It could be as simple as slipping into the clothes of the other sex, or as wild and fantastical as using magic to physically transform for a short time.

Whatever means this character uses, the reasons for doing this could be anything. The character could simply choose to do so, but more often than not, the character is forced into the situation by friends, foes, or fate. It could be for heroic reasons or selfish reasons, but either way, they produce situations that cause awkward tension and sometimes ingenious, and more often than not, hilarious solutions.

Throughout history these types of stories have been told; although, they are not as common as the sprawling adventure story. Dressing in drag has been a part of our culture for a long time. As far back as the Greek and Roman’s, in Japanese Noh plays as well in Shakespearean England men typically played the female roles.

Even Thor had to dress in drag, once. Not the Marvel superhero, but the original Thor from the Norse myths. Although, if one could imagine Chris Hemsworth in a wedding dress, that would not be too far off. Thor lost his hammer, Mjolnir, to a giant named Thiasi. He would only give it back if the goddess Freya, the most beautiful and sought after goddess of the Norse myths, would marry him. Loki got this wonderful idea to dress up Thor and pass him off as Freya so that he could get close enough to the hammer to steal it back. Thor let’s out a thundering protest, but in the end, Loki convinced him to do it. That is where things begin to become interesting. A fun and humorous story that could make a good movie given the right treatment.

Certain movies even have short scenes where they feature the characters in drag. In these movies, it is usually the tough, action hero type that has to “do the deed.” In Tango & Cash, both Kurt Russel and Sylvester Stallone have a quick scene dressed up. Or, would the term “dolled up” be better? In Junior, manly Arnold Schwarzenegger was dressed up for a quick scene. That was a bit disturbing, but hilarious none the less.

Here are some titles that bend the rules when it comes to gender. Some of these titles are pseudo-comedies meaning they have more drama or serious parts in them. However, the comedy balances out the dramatic in those movies. Whichever type of movie being viewed, the results are the same. There are mild, awkward situations to out-right, jaw-dropping zaniness. Side-splitting laughter will ensue, so put down that milk lest it be blown out through the nose!

Mrs. Doubtfire

A down on his luck actor (Robin Williams) loses custody of his children to his ex-wife. She (Sally Fields) claims he is not mature and is too irresponsible to take care of them. Under loud protests by him and the kids, custody is transferred. The children move in with their mother and her new boyfriend played by Pierce Brosnan. What’s a desperate actor to do in this situation? He sneaks in and covertly visits his children, of course! He throws on a disguise; and not just any disguise, but that of a kindly, old lady by the name of Mrs. Doubtfire! The laughs follow as Williams tries to maintain his disguise while spending quality time with his children.

This is one of Williams’ better performances. His transition into Doubtfire is stunning. His ability to imitate has always been one of his strengths as a comedian. The fact he was able to impersonate many celebrities very accurately on a whim was amazing to watch. He was a talented comedian and actor that left a large body of work for the world to enjoy. As Doubtfire, one could see glimpses of other personalities Mr. Williams has done in the past. These were assembled into a brand new personality so as to have that uniquely familiar quality about it.

The story itself could have used a bit more funny moments to offset the heartbreaking opening, but for the most part, it is a very enjoyable movie. Pierce Brosnan was a bit stiff in his role. It felt like he was a little uncomfortable as the straight man. Whether it was the role itself or other unknown factors inhibiting him is anyone’s guess. He should have relaxed and went with the character. The children in the movie turned in typical child performances. Nothing too grand, or award worthy. All in all, it is a good family movie that was assembled well and tells a good story.

Just One of the Guys

This is a story about a high school girl, Terry, who wants to be a journalist. When her stories are rejected because they are good, but not interesting, she becomes depressed. She wants to win the journalism competition because the prize is an internship at the local newspaper. When talking to her younger brother, she half-heartedly suggests that if a guy submitted that same article it would have been taken seriously. Her brother thinks she is joking and at that point, she becomes determined to prove she could do it.

With her brother’s help, she attends another school as a boy. While there, she meets a girl who falls madly in love with her while dressed as a guy. She also meets a guy whom she falls for trying to help him with his confidence. She accidentally becomes an enemy of the school bully. While on this wild ride she winds up going where no girl, or perhaps, a few, have gone before: the boys locker room. Meanwhile, she has to hide all of this from her boyfriend who seems to show up at the right (or is that the wrong) times.

This was made squarely in the eighties, so be warned. Many of the fashions and technologies of that time are present and affect the story to some degree. If one wants to reminisce about that bygone era, or one does not mind seeing out-dated stuff, then this is a great movie to see. If you can believe it, buried under all the nostalgia and the occasional bad acting and cheesy dialogue there is a good story.

Some classic comical moments arise with this type of comedy. For example, Terry is all dressed up for a date with her boyfriend, when her “stalker” shows up wanting to see “him.” Terry has to quickly change clothes into her male persona and scramble to find a way to make her stalker leave before her boyfriend shows up. Needless to say, it does not go smoothly. This is not just another high school movie. It has heart. And perhaps a message somewhere.

Mulan

This is Disney’s animated movie about a girl who dresses up as a boy to join the army. The reason for this; to take her aging father’s place because he was conscripted to fight and defend China against the invading horde of Mongols. She receives help from her family’s totem animal; a red dragon named Mushu. He is the only one who knows her secret, at least at first.

In typical comic style, Mushu is not as impressive as he should be. He is pocket-sized, but very boastful, played in a very good way by Eddie Murphy. One song, in particular, is very giggle-worthy. It is titled, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” It’s played during the training montage where Mulan is trying to keep up with the soldiers as they train for battle. Obviously, she is a bit slow and clumsy, not quite used to being a “man.” She stays with it and in the end, she proves she is just one of the guys.

This movie was funny, exciting, cute, and amazing. Basically, it was typical Disney. There were those moments where Mulan says or does something that evokes suspicion, but then she recovers in a funny way. Take the scene where she is bathing in the lake. She thinks the squad is asleep, then all of a sudden all the guys hop into the lake naked as can be. She dives under the water, getting more of an intimate look than what she ever wanted while swimming to shore.

The voice acting is excellent. The animation is impressive, this is Disney, after all. The music is memorable. Overall, it is an excellent film for the entire family and is highly recommended. Still, be prepared for those awkward questions that kids might ask like, why did Mulan dress up as a boy? And is that typical?

White Chicks

Two FBI agents are assigned to escort two rich girls to the Hamptons for the weekend. The reason for this: a threat against these Socialites has been issued. They are to protect the socialites until they arrive at the Hamptons where they will be handed off to another team. Along the way, an incident happens and the girls refuse to complete the journey. In order to save the mission, their jobs, and their reputations; the agents decide to go as the girls. There is one small detail that the agents may have over-looked. The girls are white and they are black. This doesn’t stop them as they call in a team of make-up artists who transform them into an almost carbon copy of the blonde socialites.

This movie begins slower with a typical screw-up situation demonstrating these characters are incompetent. It is only after the aforementioned situation happens that the real comedy begins. Like all gender-bender movies, there are the usual periods of adjustment where the character forgets they are in disguise. In this movie, there were plenty of these and presented in a unique manner. Shawn and Marlon were great as the agents and looked surprisingly good as “white chicks.” Yet, there was that hint of manliness in the faces that no amount of make-up could hide. This was a great choice of flaw that signaled the running gag.

There were many “girl” moments where the agents had to adapt and they did so in hilarious ways. One such scenario was during a dance off at a night club. They went “old-school” and began to break dance with expert skill. Obviously, the real sisters probably never learned that from the expressions on their friends’ faces. This movie is a riot! It is highly recommended for people who love to laugh.

The writing is not awards-caliber by any means, but it is well executed. Some of the jokes are tired but were polished up with a new shine. Terry Crews has an interesting part in this. He brings a full bag of jokes on his own. His character’s obsessive pursuit of one of the agents in disguise is near genius. He presents a different side than the one displayed in The Expendables series.

She’s the Man

Viola loves to play Soccer and is quite good. When the team is cut due to budget restraints that year, her life seems to end. A solution presents itself one day when she finds her brother secretly leaving for Europe for a tour with his band. He was enrolled in a nearby school which happens to have a great soccer team. She decides to become her brother, Sebastian, and attend the school in his place. Meanwhile, Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend is pursuing him, enraged that he broke up with her. Also, Viola falls in love with her roommate who has fallen in love with Viola. However, he doesn’t know Viola is Sebastian. Then, there is a girl who likes Sebastian, who doesn’t know he is a she!

This creates the classic comedy situation of the love triangle jumbled together with identity mix-up and can only create zany antics. These build to what amounts to a hilarious climax that is both comically gratifying and romantically satisfying. This one stars Amanda Bynes as Viola. Channing Tatum is featured here in one of his earlier roles.

The Hot Chick

This movie can be considered part of this sub-genre in that there is a gender switch. The characters, Jessica and the thief, switch bodies. Jessica is played by Rachael McAdams and the thief is Rob Schneider. While Jessica and her friend, April (Anna Farris) were at the mall, they saw an interesting new shop. Jessica saw a pair of earrings that she adored. She stole them and at a gas station, she bumped into Rob Schneider’s character. He was leaving after having robbed the place. The earrings dropped onto the ground where each character picked up one of the earrings. It turns out this set of jewelry is magical.

That night, they each put on the earring and while they slept, they switch bodies. What a surprise they received when they woke up! The rest of the movie is a silly journey through the lives of these two characters. Through the movie, Jessica and April must locate her body and find a way to switch her back. The comedy comes through the obvious jokes about gender, but there are some slapstick situations and sight gags as well. It is a bit on the raunchy side and well deserving of the PG-13 rating it received.

Rob Schneider’s movies are mostly hit or very big misses, but this is Rob Schneider at his best. It does have heart and a bit of a moral ending, but not much. It is no award winner by any means, but not all movies need to be. This is pure comedy through and through. It was designed for laughs and it delivers. It is highly recommended if one likes silly stories.

Some Like It Hot

This movie is about two musicians struggling to pay the rent. They take any job they can find. One day they witness a murder by a mob boss named “Spats.” He sees their faces as they barely escape. They need to leave the city if they want to survive. The musicians know about a gig calling for two female musicians for a band traveling to Florida. What a perfect opportunity to disguise themselves and leave the city! Plus, it is in an all female band. What more could a guy ask for? Well, that question is soon answered.

Sugar, played by Marilyn Monroe, enters the scene and Joe and Jerry (now Josephine and Geraldine ) nearly ruin the situation and reveal themselves. The situation becomes complicated as they both begin to fall in love with Sugar and they begin to vie for her affections. While she meets a millionaire at the resort, another member of the resort falls for Jerry’s character. Just when things were complicated enough, it just so happens “Spats” is at the club for a meeting of the mob bosses!

This movie had potential. It begins interestingly enough but begins to slow down after the murder. This was probably a very risqué movie in the 50’s. and the gags were as racy as they could be for the times. The tango scene was funny, and the bell-hop was classic. Marilyn was very good, playing the straight man (woman?). Whether she had no comic timing, or the producers were afraid to take a chance, remains to be seen. It seems she had potential to play a decent comic part.

On the train to the resort, Sugar and Jerry inadvertently start a party along with the rest of the girls. Jerry had some pretty good lines, probably the best. It is no surprise since Jack Lemon was a comedic actor. Tony Curtis rounded out the main cast and was good, too. He had some good lines and comic scenes, though his strongest scene was where he was pretending to be rich and showing Sugar around “his” yacht.

All in all, the movie comes highly recommended. This is a good opportunity to the differences on this theme from then and now. As an aside, Ms. Monroe has a few scenes where she sings. If that truly is her voice, then it is something to witness.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

This is a musical based upon a stage production of the same name. It is about a couple just recently engaged named Brad and Janet. They are traveling in a car one rainy night when the car gets a flat tire. They don’t have a spare to fix it so they decide to find a telephone to use. (This is set before the advent of cell phones) They stumble through the woods for the length of a song getting soaking wet when they see a light in a castle window. Like anyone would do, especially in a movie, they go toward the light.

When they arrive, they are greeted by a creepy butler and a strange maid named Magenta. Things get strange quickly when the master shows up. He, or she, is Dr. Frank N Furter and claims to be an alien transvestite from the planet Transsexual. The doctor has recently completed a project he/she has been working on and invites the couple to witness the accomplishment and help celebrate the occasion, after all, the more the merrier. In a tribute to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Doctor Frank has created a man in perfect shape and proportions and will bring him to life that night. The stage is set and the lightning strikes! Behold! The man, named Rocky, is alive and to celebrate they dance and sing and feast and even dive into some stranger stuff.

Like the old Godzilla movies, they are so fake and the acting is terrible, but one cannot help but like them because there is something there that cannot be described. One must experience it to understand. This movie is similar in that way. There is something there that draws people to this, whether it is the music, the story, the Frankenstein theme, or the camaraderie one experiences. Who knows, one might become hooked and join the following and attend the various events dedicated to this phenomenon. At least once a year, theaters host an event in which attendees participate in various ways. One example, when the phrase, “there’s a light” is mentioned the audience holds up a flashlight.

Enjoy this strange walk on the wild side, because life is too short not to.

Victor/ Victoria

A grand tale directed by the master of slapstick, Blake Edwards. This a story of an out of work musician who finds work in a show as a man playing a woman. The catch being the musician is a woman! Julie Andrews stars as the woman playing a man playing a woman. It is one of her finer moments in her long career. It seems that anything she does turns into a golden performance. It speaks volumes about her talent

With Blake Edwards, this performance was brilliant. She was able to act, sing and dance and combine these into a delectable dish enhancing the vision that Mr. Edwards had drawn. James Garner plays the love interest who falls in love with Andrews’ character. In a performance to match Ms. Andrews’, he journeys along the way trying to discover the real person behind the blind. With plenty of situations for slapstick humor, this movie takes advantage of them.

It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including best actress, best screenplay, and best supporting actor among others. It won Best Music for that year. A good film from a great director populated by a great cast. It is highly recommended.

Tootsie

Actor, Mike, has a reputation for being argumentative and difficult to work with. Dustin Hoffman plays this character who after discovering this piece of news from his agent, decides to do something about it. He goes to an audition for a soap opera dressed as a woman named Dorothy. After a heated argument with the director, he gets the part. The very same part his girlfriend, Sandy (Teri Garr), tried out for and was rejected.

Dorothy becomes a sensation on the soap opera. Her character, Emily, is a hit with the audience and brought in more viewers. She befriends a meek actress, Julie, and they become close. Meanwhile, John Van Horn, played by George Gaynes of Police Academy fame, falls in love with Dorothy. To make matters worse, Julie’s father is a big fan and is developing feelings for her as well. It doesn’t help matters when Mike is falling for Julie at the same time, his relationship with Sandy is crumbling. What is a guy dressed as a girl caught in a love triangle, or is that a square, to do?

This movie is well deserving of the praise it received. Though it does begin on a slow note, it is necessary to get the feel of the character and set up the plot. It would have been nice if Dorothy was introduced a bit sooner in the story, but logic would not permit it. The movie is a solidly constructed piece of fiction where everything meshed. It was nominated for many Academy Awards including Best Picture. It won Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

As far as this picture is concerned it is not really a comedy. It is a story about serious people in funny situations that provides the comic relief. In other words, it could be labeled a dramedy. While there are many funny moments in the movie, it is not a wild and zany story. It is very good and recommended for most audiences to see at least once. Younger audiences (say under 13) may not understand, or may just be bored out of their minds. Keep that in mind.

It’s a Boy/ Girl Thing

Here is a quaint movie about a boy and a girl who switch bodies. They were touring a museum and pass an ancient statue. The legend said that on certain nights if one makes a wish, it will be granted. Well, to make the story interesting, they both make a wish and the statue grants their wishes. They switch bodies! At first, they find it strange and then they discover they must work together to find a way to switch back; if that is even possible.

This may sound like a tired take on an old theme, and maybe it is. However, the up and coming actors and their expressions made the old jokes seem fresh. The writing was smooth and the story progressed without a hitch. Though it was a bit slow at first, it needed that quiet time to set up the events that will eventually cascade into the climax. This movie, while dealing with gender issues, is pretty mild about most of the topics. It is not raunchy, or ridiculous about it.

This is a romantic comedy focusing more on the romance. Older teens would be able to watch it and appreciate the subtleties. younger ones may not understand the movie and find it boring. In all, it is recommended, if one likes more substance than just a series of sight gags and jokes.

Ranma 1/2

This is an anime series that ran 7 long seasons in Japan, produced two feature length movies and then twelve more original video animation (OVA) episodes. The story is about a boy named Ranma Saoatome. He was training to become a martial artist with his father. They traveled all over Japan and even went to China to study and practice.

While in China, they became lost and happened upon a legendary training ground called Jusenkyo. Since neither of them spoke or read Chinese, they had no clue that it was cursed. The area was filled with many pools and springs. Bamboo stalks were everywhere and rocks and cliffs lined the perimeter. This was perfect for training in any form of martial art. While they were training, they fell into some of the pools. His father fell into the “Pool of Drowned Panda” and Ranma fell into the “Pool of Drowned Girl.”

Since falling into the pools, they took on the shapes of whatever drowned there last. His father became a large panda and he is now a girl. The curse is reversed with hot water, but it is only temporary as cold water will re-activate the transformation. As if that was not enough, Ranma finds out he has been betrothed as part of a promise his father made when he was very young. He will be married to one of three daughters of the Tendo household. The two older sisters elect the youngest, tomboy sister, Akane, to be the lucky bride upon meeting Ranma. Neither Ranma nor Akane want anything to do with the other. That is good news, for there are three other girls and one guy who are vying for the opportunity to be wed to Ranma. As if it were some sort of competition, the likes of which Ranma could care less about. To top it all off, he has to fight off the stigma of being called a cross-dresser.

This has all the quirky, zany situations one would expect in a comedy. In fact, it sometimes goes beyond with all of the odd martial arts styles that crop up. For example, Ranma is recruited to save the Girls Rhythmic Gymnastics Martial Arts team from a rival school’s Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Martial Arts team. To do this, he has to…wait for it, become a ‘she’ and learn how to use a ribbon as a weapon. This is most definitely a harem anime, based on the long-running manga of the same name. It has elements of the fighting genre, but a lot of romance has been sprinkled in to add some spice.

This is highly recommended if one likes wild and wacky fun wrapped up in an animated package. Even though it is animated, It is not really for young children as it has a rating of TV-14. The reason for this rating is for the occasional language, suggestive themes, and brief nudity. For those 14 years, or older it is strongly recommended.

About Erich Appelhans

Erich is the author of the thriller, Is Love Everlasting? He has a BA in Communications from Colorado State University. He lives in Arvada, Colorado with his cat, who always tries to help him with his writing. He enjoys watching movies, writing poetry, or reading a great book. Follow Erich on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/erichswritingspot.
Get his book at Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/410406





About Erich Appelhans

Erich is the author of the thriller, Is Love Everlasting? He has a BA in Communications from Colorado State University. He lives in Arvada, Colorado with his cat, who always tries to help him with his writing. He enjoys watching movies, writing poetry, or reading a great book. Follow Erich on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/erichswritingspot.
Get his book at Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/410406