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film review

No Ordinary Man explores the legacy of Billy Tipton, a 20th-century American jazz musician and trans icon.Courtesy of TIFF

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  • No Ordinary Man
  • Directed by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt
  • Written by Aisling Chin-Yee and Amos Mac
  • Classification N/A; 80 minutes

The title of the documentary about the transmasculine dance-band musician Billy Tipton is an understatement. Born in 1914 biologically female, Tipton assumed a male identity as a nightclub pianist in the mid-30s when jazzing was mostly a man’s job. He lived with a number of women before settling down and raising a family with a former stripper, with neither his wife nor his adopted kids ever knowing his female birth sex until he died. His complicated story is told smoothly and conceptually by Canadian filmmakers Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, who use trans actors to express nuanced thoughts on Tipton and identity. Tender, topical and well-crafted, No Ordinary Man is no ordinary film.

No Ordinary Man is available on-demand, including the digital TIFF Lightbox, starting April 2

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.