The Dress You Have On

By Courtney Therond | Drama
A couple questions their relationship after a surprising find.

A long-time married couple, Libby and Jess, are getting ready for an event later in the evening. But Libby is coming home from her unfulfilling job, and their conversation is tense and unproductive. But when Jess finds something unexpected in Libby’s bag, it causes an argument that will upend the foundations for their relationship.

Writer-director Courtney Therond’s short two-hander drama is essentially a long conversation, but for Libby and Jess, it is an important, earth-shattering one, where long submerged truths and needs come to surface and leaves ripples that may affect the relationship in the future.

Confined to one-bedroom, the narrative scope of the film feels at first stuffy and almost claustrophobic, mirroring the emotional reality of its characters. At first, it seems the couple is arguing about their asymmetrical desires and Libby’s lack of direction in life, but then the fight quickly becomes about something much more.

The writing handles the emotional arc with exceptional sensitivity and compassion. It understands with great insight that long-term couples are rarely about the surface conflict, but about the unspoken, uncomfortable truths that we leave unsaid for the sake of peace or another person’s feelings.

What shines in the film are the performances by Jessica Mendez Siqueiros and Dana Aliya Levinson, who play Libby and Jess, respectively, with aching emotional honesty and a palpable sense of connection. They bring the film’s superb dialogue to life, charting with precision the layers of resentment, unspoken pain and other difficult emotions that overlay an unspoken truth. But during this difficult conversation, they slowly unpeel to get to the raw, vulnerable truth.

Libby has been with Jess through every step of her recent gender transition. But Libby has also had to push aside many of her own needs through this process over the years. However, she’s at a point where she feels as if she’s disappearing from her own life, and needs to find her way back to herself. It’s a truth that is difficult to say, and equally difficult for Jess to hear — and it’s one that may change the course of not just their relationship, but their lives.

“The Dress You Have On” is an important film about one aspect of a transgender experience, one that features a transgender actor and covers the emotional aftereffects of one specific transition. By being so courageous and honest within its specificity — and by embracing human complexities about regret and desire in a way that almost anyone can recognize — the film achieves a powerful, universal emotional resonance, leaving viewers with a bittersweet tenderness that breaks the heart open.

Ultimately, it’s a story about the need for any human to be seen, heard and witnessed as fully themselves — and for that need to be met by a partner, no matter what side they’re standing on. In the end, the couple must hear one another — not through their pre-existing filters, but by truly listening to the other as they are. Only then can they move forward, and whether or not it’s together or apart, it will be with greater love and understanding.

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