Felicity Huffman does an
incredible job of portraying a pre-op transsexual who is a week shy of her
life-changing surgery when she learns of the existence of a son who was
apparently born of her one fumbling sexual encounter as a man. Her
character of Bree (née Stanley) is uptight, uncomfortable in her skin,
pathologically self-conscious, trying desperately to adjust to the sexual
realignment that she has wanted for as long as she can recall. She is
also a genuinely good person who harbors no one (with the possible exception
of her family) any bad will. She has been living her life in a
"stealth" mode for years, trying to pass as a woman while still observing
and learning how she is supposed to act.
The rest of Transamerica
is not as memorable as Huffman's portrayal of the heroine (hero?), but
it is still an interesting and worthy film.
Transamerica is a
very high-concept version of the road movie. Bree lives in Los
Angeles. When she learns that she has a son who is in jail in New
York, her psychiatrist (Elizabeth
Peña) feels that she will not be able to make the adjustment to her new life
until she faces this huge part of her old one.
Bree bails Toby (Kevin
Zegers) out of jail, but she does not tell the teen that she is a
and had been his father. She reasons that is a huge thing to dump on the kid, so
when he assumes that she is a Christian missionary she feels that the
miscomprehension is more convenient than telling the whole truth.
The kid is a hustler,
involved in drugs and interested in bettering himself by becoming a porn
actor – all things that shock the sheltered Bree. He wants her to
give him a ride to LA, she thinks she can leave him off in his small
hometown in Kentucky. When she learns why he refuses to go back home
the two head further west – meeting an interesting assortment of people,
having their car stolen and just getting to know each other.
We see Toby's recklessness
with the car thief and Bree's charming shyness when she meets a friendly
(and probably more than just slightly attracted) older Indian man (Graham
Greene). We also learn more about what Bree has gone through in life
when they end up in Arizona and have to stay with her parents (Fionulla
Flanagan and Burt Young) and just-barely-sober sister (Carrie Preston).
The relationship between
father (mother?) and son never quite gets to a point where they are
comfortable. However these two very different personalities do
eventually come to some understanding of each other and the realization that
they do have a strong familial bond that even they can't quite comprehend.
In recent weeks, people
(mostly ones who have not seen the movies) have pointed to the critical
success and Oscar interest in Brokeback Mountain, Capote and
Transamerica as proof that Hollywood is "out of touch" with traditional
American family values and interests. Quite the contrary, other than
the fact that she feels that she was born the wrong sex, Bree is extremely
conservative – actually somewhat repressed. In fact, in an odd way,
Transamerica is much more about family values than it is sex.
Not every family is perfect and conforms to pat ideas of the what is "right"
and "wrong." Most families are dysfunctional and wounded and have
secrets. The world is a huge melting pot – you can't look at
everything in black and white.
Despite what the protests
suggest, this movie does not in any way glamorize homosexuality. (And
by the way, there is a huge difference between homosexuality and
transgenderism.) Bree is really rather asexual and Toby's experiences
are not so much carnal as they are pathetic attempts for profit and
If you have no interest in
this subject, that is certainly your right. Honestly, I wasn't so sure
that I would have any curiosity about the story myself until I saw the
movie. Bree's story is not one that would be told in a normal
Hollywood film. I believe the world is a better place because we have
the right to observe and discuss people who are different than us. If
you are so turned off by even the idea of Transamerica that it upsets
you, just don't go to see it. Don't begrudge the people who may learn
something from it. That is the American way.
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: February 26, 2006.