Transamerica Movie Review

From the moment that Felicity Huffman comes on screen in Transamerica, with her rumbling voice and the cloistered manners of a 1950s housewife, it's apparent you're in for something rarely seen before in American film. Playing the transsexual Bree, who is getting ready for the final gender reassignment surgery that will complete her transition to true womanhood, Huffman creates a character who isn't terribly interested in gender politics but just wants to be allowed to live on her own terms. As such, it's a brave and tough piece of acting - a woman playing a man aching to become a woman - that truly breaks barriers. Unfortunately, there's a lousy movie wrapped around her that one must suffer through to see her.

Conceived by writer/director Duncan Tucker as the kind of wacky road movie being churned out by Sundance-grubbing indie studios about 10 years ago, Transamerica has a strong conception of Bree's character but little idea of what to do with it. Living in a small, rundown house and working two jobs to save money, Bree puts all her hopes and dreams into her long-awaited surgery, doing everything she can to convince her therapist (Elizabeth Peña) that she's ready for the change. All that gets put on hold, though, when she finds out that a relationship she had back when she was still living as a man resulted in a child, Toby (Kevin Zegers, hardly up to the task), now a teen runaway calling from a New York jail looking for his dad. Since her therapist won't consent to the surgery until she deals with her past, Bree hops a plane to New York. That's where the road trip comes in.

Tucker has obviously done his homework on this subculture, showing in well-detailed terms how these people in transition from one gender to the gender live out their daily lives. There's no question but that he has presented here an affectionate portrait of the often-misunderstood, going out of his way to show Bree as a true woman who only needs the surgery so that she can finally feel at peace in her own body. It's with everything else in the film that Tucker runs into trouble.

The bulk of Transamerica is made up of the desperately madcap adventures which Toby and Bree get into on the road from New York to L.A. - where he hopes to break into porn stardom. Everything here, from Bree's last-minute decision to hide her true identity from Toby (she pretends she's a missionary) to an excruciating section with Bree's parents, works barely as comedy and even less well as drama. A woefully short highlight is when the two run into Calvin, a good old boy who gets a crush on Bree. Played with endearing warmth by the masterful Graham Greene, Calvin has a rambling ease missing from the rest of the film, his too-brief scenes finally giving Huffman someone of similar caliber to play against. This sort of critical misjudgment is typical of this crushingly dull film which practically hides Huffman's breakthrough performance behind a wall of Indie Screenwriting 101 clichés.

What Adam's apple?

Comments

Transamerica Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2005

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