Monday, February 20, 2006


Warning - As with all my reviews, possible spoilers, read with caution.

Transamerica certainly treated transgenderism with more respect than most movies, but there's not a lot out there for comparison. The only other transgender-related movie I've seen recently was HBO's "Normal", which was decent but glossed over a some of the realities... for instance, there was no mention of the main character ever seeing a therapist.

Transamerica, on the other hand, did a lot more homework. The main character, Bree, was played rather convincingly by actress Felicity Huffman. So convincingly that I bet some viewers will wonder if the actress was actually male or female. (And as if to further confuse the audience, she has two full-frontal nude scenes in the movie - one pre-op and one post-op.)

It took me a long time to get used to her voice. It must have been challenging for Huffman - a woman playing someone born male trying to sound female. Makes me think of Victor Victoria. But her voice was so flat and monotone (think Daria), that she often came across as emotionless.

The plot in a nutshell: With just days to go before her gender reassignment surgery, Bree (short for Sabrina, formerly Stanley) discovers that she has a near-adult son. And he's in jail. And Bree's psychiatrist won't let her get the surgery until she resolves this loose end. So Bree flys to New York, bails him out of jail, and takes him on a cross-country drive. In accordance with standard movie rules, the boy starts out rebellious and disrespectful, until you find out about his traumatic past, and you gradually discover he's a sweet boy at heart.

Meanwhile, Bree, desperate to keep from complicating her life even further, avoids telling him that they're related, or even that she's biologically male. Of course the boy finds out about the transgendered part in a scene stolen from Mrs Doubtfire. Bree comes off as a bit of a jerk for much of the movie, but it is a movie about personal growth. Think Jerry McGuire, except Bree is transforming both emotionally and physically. The movie's final message - that the surgery won't solve all her problems - is one all transsexuals should take to heart.

The movie is a bit uneven, like it can't decide whether it's a comedy or a drama. But the humor is realistic and down-to-earth; not the over-the-top stuff you're probably used to seeing in movies involving this subject matter. Some of the scenes with Bree's family were comic gold, maybe a little too much so... it almost felt like they were trying to change the movie's tone halfway through.

Take away the transgender issues, and you've seen this movie before. Actually, you've probably seen several movies about parents reuniting with children they never knew existed, getting to know them, and trying to save them from their own self-destructive behavior. But there's a lot of other movie plots that have been way more overdone.

Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable afternoon. I don't know if I'll buy the DVD, but I am glad I saw it.

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