As we all know by now, boys will be boys, and boys will be girls, and the ubiquity of transsexual/transvestite dramatic conflict, from "Transparent" to Caitlyn Jenner, is such that the only logical next move seems to be parody. Which is precisely where Francois Ozon, French inquisitor of bourgeois deviance, finds himself much of the time with "The New Girlfriend."
This story of a man who loses his wife and finds his true self is executed at the same level of overheated drama as one might find on any North American nighttime soap, especially right after Laura (Isild Le Besco) dies, and her best friend, Claire (Anais Demoustier), accidentally discovers the widowed David (Romaine Duris) feeding his baby while dressed in full drag. Claire is appalled -- her sense of outrage makes her, intentionally, less than sympathetic, as well as somewhat anachronistic. The real heroine, though, is David -- or Virginia, as Claire dubs her -- whose grief has unleashed a nature he's long kept buried.
Like any decent French filmmaker, Ozon ("Swimming Pool") is besotted by Hitchcock, and from the intersecting of identities to the music of Philippe Rombi, a suggestion of "Vertigo" informs the proceedings, however tongue-in-cheek. For all the genuinely moving moments in "The New Girlfriend," many of them provided by the gifted Duris and his charmingly awkward cross-dressing, Ozon is treating the "issue" with the sense of grave outrage he thinks it deserves -- namely, none. At the soul of his film is the relationship between Claire and David/Virginia, which diverts comically from standard melodrama. Do Claire and her best friend's husband-in-mourning assuage their grief with a trip to the motel? No, they go to the mall -- shopping having become faux-decadent. The plot does thicken, of course. Attractions between the characters, and their slippery sense of sexual self, overlap and intertwine, and Virginia becomes a source of profoundly bittersweet affection. To paraphrase the old song, David is never as pretty as he feels. But he does know who he is. It's Claire who needs to reconcile herself, not just to David, but to herself. Which is what Ozon was getting at all along.