Director Joseph Sackett talks genderqueer Freaky Friday film, Homebody

(Joseph Sackett, Colbie Minifie)

Homebody is an entertaining and fascinating feature film about a little boy’s spirit entering his female babysitter’s body. The fantasy just screened at Outfest Film Festival and the coming of age LGBTQ comedy could be equated to a genderqueer Freaky Friday. Ish.

Reel 360 caught up with the mind behind the film, writer and director Joseph Sackett, who spoke about his inspiration for the film. But let’s talk about the plot first.

Johnny loves his babysitter Melanie, who is heartbroken that she is working her last day with Johnny before she transitions into being a full-time doula, a trained companion who is not a healthcare professional. Melancholy as well, Johnny discovers a YouTube video that teaches him about Free-Spirit Meditation, a practice by which you can send your spirit out of your body and into someone else’s.

Deciding to try it, Johnny sends his spirit into Melanie and thus, chaos and comedy ensue.  As a nine-year-old boy trapped in a woman’s body and with no idea how to reverse it, Johnny/Melanie go on a journey to find a solution. While having to fulfill Melanie’s doula responsibilities, their journey becomes a roller coaster of events.

The film’s comedic and heart-filled success can be attributed to the talent of Fear the Walking Dead, The Boys star Colby Minifie, for who Sackett wrote the role.

This film’s inception began with Sackett’s short film I Was In Your Blood (also starring his muse Colby Minifie). This was about a young boy who falls in love with his babysitter. Sackett tells Reel 360 the babysitter figures of both films are directly inspired by his own childhood crushes.

According to Sackett, the short explored the nuances between “I want you” and “I want to be you. Homebody takes this genderqueer fantasy to a new level where it seems like Johnny has a romantic crush on Melanie at first. But as the film progresses, we see Johnny is able to experience consciousness in her body. Together Johnny and the audience discover that Johnny sincerely feels more at home as a female.   

Sackett says the seeds for both films lie in, “the detail and self-discovery of my own childhood and the innocent place where the whole world is just the child and the babysitter.”  He continues, “Was I supposed to be a girl? I always felt like one when I was a kid, but I also knew that those kinds of feelings were forbidden. I remember walking home from school one day, an older boy at the bus stop asked me: are you a boy or a girl? I flushed, tried to hide behind my long hair, and didn’t know how to answer him.”

Sackett noted, “My mom, who was pretty progressive for the ’90s, let me wear dresses and make-up at home. But she taught me that those were not things for boys to do in public. I know she was just trying to keep me safe. You can do what you want behind closed doors, but outside there are people who might hurt you for being yourself.”

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He noted. “What if I’d been a kid now, though? Now, when the Zeitgeist encourages non-conforming gender expression much differently than when I was young. How would I answer that boy’s question at the bus stop? Would I have said that I was a girl? Would I have worn a dress and lipstick not just at home but outside? Would I be a trans woman now instead of a queer man? Would I be happier? Homebody is me wrestling with these questions.”

Aesthetically, Sackett was inspired by the high-concept body-swap movies that he grew up with like Big and Freaky Friday. He described Homebody as a queer Being John Malkovich. His goal was to make something in the same entertaining vein as those classics, but to update them with his own queer sensibility.

Sackett expressed, “It’s important to me to make a movie where a genderqueer or young person is surrounded by love in a wholehearted way because so many queer films are trauma-based and I think in this time in history there is an opportunity to rewrite the narrative.” In the filmmaker’s work he stands by, “following  my gut and writing  about things that I find interesting which tend to be gender and sexuality, that is the playground I keep coming back to.”

Speaking of play, all of the drawings that help narrate and illustrate the inside of Johnny’s mind are all drawings sketched by the director himself… with his left hand to create a childlike authenticity. His inspiration for the drawings was those the actor Tre Ryder who played Johnny drew in rehearsals.

Sackett’s other projects have screened in competition at the Festival de Cannes, Slamdance, OutFest, the Atlanta Film Festival, and the Rooftop Films Summer Series among others. He received his MFA in Screenwriting and Directing from NYU Graduate Film, and is the recipient of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grant.

After the festival circuit of Homebody he would like for the films to find a streaming home and he is currently in post-production on his next feature.

Above all Sackett is “inspired by watching the kind of films where it feels like going inside of the filmmaker’s brain for two hours.”  This filmmaker has successfully taken us into his childhood Crayola colored brain for this filmmaking experience.

Megan Penn reports on the indie film market and anything that empowers women and underrepresented groups.