Eric Drath’s doc about Renee Richards, the transsexual tennis player whose struggle to compete as a woman in the 1977 U.S. Open polarized the sports world, explores a double paradox: Why would a person tremendously successful as a man, professionally, athletically and sexually, undergo an irreversible procedure to turn himself female? And why, having relocated cross-country to live reclusively, would she then jeopardize her anonymity by entering high-visibility tournaments? Surely her former identity as a top-ranked 6’1″ male lefty could not remain secret. “Renee,” exerting true biopic intrigue, seems tailor-made for LGBT outlets prior to ESPN play.
Friends, classmates and ex-lovers fascinatingly weigh in on Richard Raskind’s former male persona, his popularity with the country-club set, his esteemed ophthalmic surgeon’s career, his amateur tennis victories, his feminine conquests, marriage, fatherhood and finally his decision to be reborn (re-nee) as a woman. Her tennis appearances as Renee, commented on by the likes of Martina Navratilova, Mary Carillo and Billie Jean King, likewise make for absorbing viewing. But once attention shifts to Renee’s everyday problems with her resentful son, the docu’s agenda is waylaid by its subject’s and history accedes to melodrama.