TRANSAMERICA (director/writer: Duncan Tucker; cinematographer: Stephen Kazmierski; editor: Pam Wise; music: David Mansfield; cast: Felicity Huffman (Bree), Kevin Zegers (Toby), Fionnula Flanagan (Elizabeth, mother), Elizabeth Peña (Margaret, therapist), Graham Greene (Calvin), Burt Young (Murray, father), Carrie Preston (Sydney, sister), Grant Monohon (Hitchhiker); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Linda Moran/Rene Bastian/Sebastian Dungan; Weinstein Company; 2005)
“Too clumsily handled to mean much.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The feature debut of writer-director Duncan Tucker is framed like sitcom TV fare with a contrived mixture of caprice and seriousness, never settling on which direction it really wants to go. It has TV’s Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman as a pre-operative transsexual named Bree, whose former name as a male was Stanley Osborne. The LA telemarketer and waitress learns a week before the surgery that she has fathered a boy named Toby (Kevin Zegers), who is now 17 and incarcerated in NYC on a charge of petty theft and possible drug possession. The clumsy plotline has therapist Margaret (Elizabeth Peña) claiming the procedure can’t be approved until Bree clears up matters with her alleged son (Don’t ask me why this is a prerequisite for surgery!). Bree hops a plane to NYC and bails out Toby, but lies about who she is–telling him she’s a Christian missionary from the “Church of the Potential Father.” The kid, an angelic looking male hustler, petty thief and druggie, wants to go to Hollywood to become a movie porn star in gay films. Bree has a week to get back to LA for the operation, so the kid jumps bail and she buys a used car from one of his hustler friends for their cross-country journey. The drive gives the prim conservative Bree a chance to bond with her troubled rebellious teen son. Learning that Toby’s mom was a suicide and his stepfather resides in rural Kentucky, she drives there over his objections. When Bree meets the abusive stepfather, a pederast whom the kid ran away from, they continue their journey across the south and relate to each other in retro roadside diners and motels as the kid learns Bree is a man. Reaching New Mexico they meet a devious hitchhiking hippie who steals their car and a noble Native American rancher named Calvin (Graham Greene), who has a crush on her, the only genune character in the film. Calvin graciously takes them to Bree’s parents’ suburban house in Phoenix. There we see her easygoing father (Burt Young) and her overbearing monstrous mom (Fionnula Flanagan) interact. Mom is viewed as the cause of the family’s dysfunction, in typical sitcom comedy fare.
It’s a film that attempts to give respect to those who are different from the norm, and reasons that their identity problem is caused by a lack of respect for them in their formative childhood years by their parents. Aside from a few touching scenes that conveyed this, the comedy/drama was for the most part too clumsily handled to mean much. Huffman’s performance carries the film for better or worse, as she must peel away away her male characteristics to be the female she desires. The main problem was that she seemed positively female in the first place and never seemed convincing as a male. Her visions of herself as a proper 1950s type of woman had its funny moments lose its freshness as the journey kept hitting the same obvious roadside signs, and ends in a superficial way suggesting everything is fine when we can plainly see everything isn’t fine–it was just glossed over in the filmmaker’s aversion to say anything deep or anything that really mattered.
REVIEWED ON 3/5/2006 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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