Emma (Anna Shields – who also wrote and co-directed the film) is a young woman who works in a sex shop. She also enjoys sleeping with both men and women as much as she can, but she isn’t one to get attached, partly because these fleeting bits of fun allow her to be whoever she wants to be – a teacher to one person, an artist to another – anything that isn’t someone stuck in a sex shop who doesn’t quite know what the next step to take is.
Into that comes Mason, a trans man who takes a shine to Emma, and to her own surprise, who Emma genuinely likes back, and who she starts to develop true feelings for. Despite her disarmingly honest approach to her sexual dalliances, Emma unsurprisingly finds it difficult to stay as detached from those around her as she might like, as some don’t like what she’s got to say even if she is just being honest, and that may come back to bite her.
Little Bi Peep is essentially a character study that slowly builds a picture of its subject. It’s put together in a way where you are essentially shown different aspects of Emma one after the other and then left to make up your own mind about how they coalesce and to what extent they ‘explain’ her. Some of the different sides of her are contradictory (but so are people, so that’s not a problem), self-delusional or self-destructive, but the film is also keen to show her as someone living her life her own way, who is honest to a fault, and who is unapologetic about her sexuality (she is certainly not bisexual waiting to become gay or straight).
The film is at its best when it shows sides to Emma which you can both admire and be critical of at the same time, as well as when it’s raising possibilities but refusing to cop out. For example, there’s a scene where Emma goes to see her shrink, which in many films would be used as a way to explain all her rough edges and cast the character as a victim who cannot be blamed for anything – but Little Bi Peep carefully avoids that, instead using moments such as that to illuminate and question without saying ‘here is the complete, easy explanation’.
As is always the danger with creating a character study like this, it can at times seem as if it’s being deliberately contrary rather than fully revealing a real person. Most of the time Little Bi Peep avoids this, but there are moments when its desire to avoid mainstream cinema tropes perhaps makes it less ‘honest’ than it might otherwise have been. That’s particularly true of the end, where things get a little postmodern and the movie slaps itself on the back, but the result is to make what it’s trying to get across seem more banal than profound.
However, the flaws are less likely to linger in your head than the successes, with Anna Shields and Sara Jecko leading a pretty good cast and helping to piece together an interesting character study of someone who is as laudable as she is cautionary, as forward-thinking as she is self-destructive and as whip-smart as she is blinkered. Helped by the script, they ensure it’s pretty entertaining all the way through, and that while there’s a serious undercurrent, there are also plenty of things to keep you amused with its dark, sometime angry sense of humour.
It is also undoubtedly great to have a lead character who is ‘properly’ bisexual, without feeling the need to question or equivocate about it. Likewise Emma’s relationship with Mason feels organic and natural, rather than being something where we’re meant to go, ‘Oh look, a bisexual woman and a trans man, how daring and original this film is’. And it leads to a moment where, to great effect, Emma’s flippancy and self-destructive edge collides with her free-thinking and genuinely felt openness, with unfortunate consequences.
Overall Verdict: Rather like the main character in Little Bi Peep, there are rough edges to the film and it’s sometimes a little too clever for its own good, but at its heart it is an entertaining and interesting character study that smartly avoids easy answers.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac