Finally, after 4 weeks of rescheduling, I went to see Transamerica. This film is HUGE, subtle on many levels but still huge.
Felicity Huffman has sure been thrust into the spotlight recently. IMHO, it is well-deserved, she is an awesome actress.
Huffman plays Stanley/Bree, a pre-op male to female transexual living in Los Angeles. As the movie opens, Bree is a week away from the gender reassignment procedure. Everything is going smoothly until the phone call from New York City. The caller claims to be her son and he is in some trouble. Bree knows she doesn't have a son, that would be impossible, wouldn't it? The phone call casts some scenario buliding on Bree's part, stealing back to her college days of being Stanley and that one haphazard incident with that girl he kinda dated. Could it be?
On the advice of her psychiatrist, Bree takes off to the east coast to meet the alleged son. Bree fakes a non-mother role in the son's life since she is having some difficulty accepting the possible reality and more importantly, the omnipresent reminder of her Stanley days which she desperately seeks to purge.
Bree and the son leave New York City by car; Bree with one agenda - to take the son back to his step-father, the son with another - to go back with Bree to Los Angeles to become a porn star. The road trip is filled with hysterical, awkward and powerful moments. My favorites are the son confronting his abusive step-father and the houseful of trannies they visit in Dallas.
Here is what I liked about the film. The Writing
- This could have easily become a 2-hour reality show on gender transformation or a shock-n-awe film. Thankfully the writers showed some talent in avoiding those methods of delivery. Instead, the transexual component of the film is minimized to the point of banality. Bree's pre-op routine of hormones, psychiatrist, dressing the female and talking the female is treated much like anyone else's dull, involuntary morning ritual of shower, shave, dress and go. In my mind I assumed that this is what it must be like for someone, like Bree, to go through these measures - these are just things that must be done, no analysis required.The Acting
- How tricky could it be for a woman to play a man who is planning on becoming a woman. While some parts of your character have to be distinctly feminine, others have to be subtly masculine and all of the those have to be delivered in a way that is perceived as natural by a very critical audience. Huffman pulls this off making it seem effortless, which I'm sure it wasn't.
Kevin Zegers(the son) delivers. While not an award winning performance, he does a great job in the troubled youth role. The confrontation scene with his step-father is one of the best in the movie; powerfully executed with timing and reaction that was believable.The Rest
- How to portray the message without preaching or resorting to cheap, tacky, overdone television methods? Ask Huffman's husband, William Macy, since he was the executive producer.
Every character outside of the immediate family has a strict non-reactive response to the transexual aspect of the story line. I thought this was brilliant since it keeps the focus on the main characters and pivots off the non-reactive peripheral characters to subtly send a message of acceptance.
Along the same line, the locations Bree and her son stop along the way during their cross-country trip are not those you would expect to find a trannie and her son. Rural Kentucky, rural Arkansas, the desert of New Mexico. Interesting in that they have taken a perceived urban situation and cast it into middle America with a live and let live response.
Bree is not given special treatment. She is not made out to be superhuman nor frail. She can have a slightly neurotic side, while other times she is pragmatic. She's made some good calls and some bad. Some people are attracted to her, while others are repulsed by her. That's equality for you.The Message
- There are some obvious plays on the word trans throughout the film; trans as in transexual, trans as in trans continent road trip and more importantly trans as in transformation.
Cleverly delivered, the message I received was one of acceptance. While the characters all go through various levels of accepting and rejecting others, the real struggle was acceptance of self.
What is accepted from within, can be shared with others.Transamerica