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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Transamerica

MOVIE REVIEWS

TRANSAMERICA  (2005)

Starring Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Graham Greene, Burt Young, Carrie Preston, Elizabeth Peña, Venida Evans, Jon Budinoff, Raynor Scheine, Grant Monohon, Bianca Leigh, Danny Burstein, Andrea James and Maurice Orozco.

Screenplay by Duncan Tucker.

Directed by Duncan Tucker.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company.  103 minutes.  Rated R.

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Transamerica

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 transsexual 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 approval. 

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.  (12/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 26, 2006.

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Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 26, 2006.

 

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