The sophomore film from writer/director/producer Trae Briers is a story about how a casual meeting between two very different men turned into a melodrama that not one of them could have predicted.
Michael (Austin Miller) is a highly successful corporate lawyer who lives in a luxurious villa on the beach in Malibu with Ashley (Tiffany Fallon) his wife of 10 years. Their relationship seems a happy one, and the couple want for nothing, except a baby that is . Although Michael appears very reluctant to take this next step, Ashley is quite desperate to proceed and is pressuring him to participate in fertility treatment.
On the way home from work one day when he stops to buy some wine for dinner, Michael comes across Shawn (T. Ashanti Mozelle) a young gay African/American who is being hassled by the police. The two men start talking and as Michael offers Shawn a ride home, there is definite glint is his eye, although Shawn is wondering what the motive for this offer of help is.
Shawn is a transexual street hustler who makes his living as a sex worker. Unable to find legitimate employment as he is an ex felon who had unknowingly taken the wrap for one of his john’e crimes. It’s his confidence in accepting who he is, that attacks Michael, that and the fact they have the hottest gay sex together that Michael has ever had. As Shawn had dressed up as Coco his ‘other self’ for this is what excites Michael, and he reveals that he too dresses up as a woman in the privacy of a secret apartment he has.
He persuades Shawn to let him dress as ‘Honey’ and joining him on the streets hustling. The difference is he wants to do it for sexual kicks whereas for Shawn this is the way he has to earn a living.
The more that Michael gets involved in his “new life’ the more he withdraws from his wife, and it is inevitable that any suspicions she has will lead to discovering his secret. Before he gets to that point, Michael’s new identity is uncovered by one of the biggest clients of his law firm, and this is the beginning of the end.
Trade is based on the real life story of Chris Bryant, the sibling of the film’s other producer Robin Bryant. She has lived as transgender for the past 25 years and was the motivating force in bringing this drama to the screen. It certainly adds a authenticity to the piece, and kudos to Briers for casting trans actress Rain Valdez to play Coco’s best friend Cherry.
The story of this two very different men coming to terms with their true identity is very touching, particular as the whole question of gender acceptance is such a topical issue right now. However it would have even been better received if they removed some of cliched aspects of the melodrama. There were fine nuanced performances from both Miller and Mozelle who enjoyed a great chemistry between them. Not so for Tiffany Fallon who’s stilted performance was a very definite downer for the whole piece
Trade makes you appreciate that whatever closet you have to come out off to realise your true self, it so often comes at a cost to others that is sometimes too tough too accept..