From the film’s provided publicity materials:
“Starring Mark Elias alongside Meeghan Holaway, Paul Dooley, and John Billingsley, and co-directed by Mark David, BOY MAKES GIRL follows a software programmer on the autistic spectrum, who, after the death of his mother, follows his own logic in creating a robot to help care for his mother’s final unruly nursing client.”
Out of respect to all involved, let me just confess right up front that I’ve always – and I do mean A-L-W-A-Y-S – been a sucker for even the most basic humanoid/android flick. Stories like Blade Runner (1982), Making Mr. Right (1987), and AMC’s A.I. serial Humans (2015-2018) risked being occasionally maudlin in places by – instead of creating full-blown synthetic beings with blinking lights and visible circuitry – casting real actors and actresses as their featured automatons; and this meant that the writing had to remain on-point and relatable for viewers. (It also meant that their budgets wouldn’t balloon out of control!) So, there’s just something about the new-fangled ‘human growing attached to an artificial human’ that appeals to me on my genetic level; and 2023’s impressive Boy Makes Girl fit that bill almost perfectly.
As can happen from time-to-time, though, marketing folks don’t exactly get it right, and the above-supplied synopsis really misses the mark. I’m going to clarify what Boy’s real plot is, but I’m also going to try to steer clear of spoiling any surprises I think best left for viewers to discover on their own.
In point of fact, Aaron Barnes (played wonderfully by Mark Elias) was not building his very own A.I. to take care of Ben (Paul Dooley). I don’t doubt that that idea could’ve been in an earlier iteration of the script as clearly the meticulously constructed and delicately programmed Emma (Meegan Holaway) has some rather obvious maternal appeal. But the script assures us that she’s designed on Aaron’s memories of the clinical therapist who treated him at a young age. Such a phenomenon is called ‘transference’ – even more specifically, Aaron’s would likely be identified as ‘sexualized transference’ – and it’s patently obvious that he’s head-over-heels smitten with her from the beginning.
However, Aaron’s insistence on perfection ultimately served as his undoing.
As his chief job as a programmer of artificial intelligence, our young lead paid attention to exacting physical and psychological details. Viewers watch as he identifies even the tiniest emotional deficiency from his early interactions with Emma, and he wouldn’t hesitate to shut her down to correct the smallest details. In Aaron’s mind, perfection is achievable: it might require an untold number of coding adjustments on his part, but that’s just how his brain is wired, meaning he can accept no less from his intended companion. But if a truly normal human intellect is one without the potentially debilitating effects of autism, did our hero fail to see that matters of the human heart are perhaps the only thing in the universe that sometime defies if not transcends logic?
Love – unlike Aaron’s behaviors – is not ordered. It can’t be dissected, scrutinized under a microscope, and reassembled exactly in code. It can be assumed. It can be mocked or studied at exhausting lengths. But love cannot be mass produced in the same way that a mechanized companion could. It cannot be bottled, marketed, or sold at any price. Ultimately, this is why his grand experiment was destined to fail from the start, and the fact that his scheme was conjured while under the influence of autism and his own flawed human emotions proved to be his personal undoing.
Thankfully, Boy doesn’t stop there.
The brilliance of Elias’ writing and direction – along with some assistance from co-director Mark David – is that Aaron does find the next chapter in his life. His failure – and his embrace of it – forces this young soul to venture out into the wide, wide world, suppressing his natural tendency to ‘fight or flight’ by instead boldly going where no autistic man has gone before. Like the robots he spent years designing for NASA, he is going to go face-to-face into the unforgiving frontier and seek out new life and new civilizations. Boy’s closing scene shows the man on this journey of discovery; and, while his face may not always show expressions of delight, it’s still undeniable that he’s exactly where the universe wants him to be … even though Emma has long vanished from his side.
I’ve read online that writer, director and star Elias has confronted his own issues with autism, so perhaps there’s no better talent in this role than he. It’s a solid bit of work – occasionally frustrating but always illuminating – and he’s surrounded himself with players equally capable of giving Boy the sugar and spice required for good taste. Holaway does a great turn filling the shoes of the script’s female Pinocchio; she ably conveys the limits of her programming while also exhibiting the all-too-human frustration of blossoming into whoever she’s destined to become on her own. It’s a great counterweight to Aaron’s own character arc. Paul Dooley – an actor I’ve always admired – rather effortlessly inhabits the grizzly and terminally-ill Ben; clearly, he demonstrates how the give-and-take of living life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, but he refuses to play his cards under anyone else’s direction.
Boy Makes Girl (2023) was produced by DFM Creative. According to a quick Google.com search, the film is widely available for rental or purchase (digitally) on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Apple TV. (FYI: Amazon.com also shows that physical media purchases are available through their website.) As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights-and-sounds for this independent production to be exceptionally well executed. (FYI: there are a few sequences – in an automobile ride – that are clearly enhanced via green screen effects, but they’re not intrusive in the slightest.) Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? As I viewed this one via streaming, there were no extras under consideration.
So even though I’ve admitted I’m a sucker for a human(ish) A.I. story, there’s still plenty of great critical reasons to give Boy Makes Girl (2023) an enthusiastic thumbs-up. It’s a rare indie gem that, surprisingly, uses the constructs of Science Fiction and Fantasy to put an exceedingly human face on our collective fascination technology. It reminds us rather easily that perhaps smart devices have something more to teach us than how to navigate to our next destination. It puts a modern spin on that age-old ‘boy meets girl’ story, never losing sight of the fact that maybe their meeting was never so much about true love as it was the love of the self. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at DFM Creative provided me with complimentary streaming access to Boy Makes Girl (2023) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.