On the Road Again
Is Transamerica the first dysfunctional family/gender-bender/road-trip movie? I think so. And, although it boasts a risky performance by Felicity Huffman portraying “Bree,” a pre-op male-to-female transsexual waiting for the final surgery, the rest of the movie plays it safe by focusing on Bree’s relationship with a teenage son as they travel together from New York to Los Angeles. It’s not a very exciting film, but unexpected humor adds a couple of nice touches during the journey.
The catch in Transamerica is that Bree, who fathered Toby (Kevin Zegers) when she was “Stanley,” didn’t know she had a son. But a week before her sex-change operation, she finds out not only that she does have one but also that Toby, a street hustler, is in jail. Bree’s counselor (Elizabeth Pena) refuses to sign off on her surgery until she deals with this new development.
When Bree meets Toby, she pretends to be with “The Church of the Potential Father” and, because the boy wants to pursue a porno movie career in Hollywood, agrees to take him with her to Los Angeles. Of course, Toby doesn’t know Bree is his father, nor does he know she’s still physically a man. Happily, Zegers displays more acting chops here than he did in the Air Bud franchise and almost makes us believe this street smart teen would accept Bree as a Christian missionary.
During their travels, Bree and Toby make discoveries that will change their lives forever. They also meet a few interesting characters along the way including: a Native American cowboy (the wonderful Graham Greene, charming us with his tender “Beautiful Dreamer” serenade), who takes a shine to Bree; a suspicious hitchhiker (Grant Monohon); and Bree’s outrageous family.
Fionnula Flanagan (The Others) shakes things up considerably as Bree’s disappointed, emotional mother; Burt Young (Mickey Blue Eyes) looks a little out of it most of the time as Bree’s father; and Carrie Preston (The Stepford Wives) oozes sarcasm in the role of Bree’s alcoholic sister. No doubt about it -- Bree’s family carries dysfunctional behavior to the max.
The success of Transamerica rests on Huffman’s (TV’s Desperate Housewives, Raising Helen) shoulders. Fortunately, because Huffman endows Bree with touching dignity, we want things to work out for the courageous main character. However, although Huffman earned a Golden Globe Best Actress Award for her unusual performance, I found her interpretation of Bree extremely mannered in most scenes. Bree wears what she considers to be feminine attire, applies make-up, paints her false fingernails and tries to act prim and proper, but most of the time I couldn’t forget I was watching an actress playing a man who wants to be a woman. Still, this is the type of role that gets attention come Oscar night, so I expect to see a nomination for Huffman, and perhaps even a win.
Written and directed by Duncan Tucker (The Mountain King), Transamerica’s heart is in the right place. I only wish it had made mine beat a little faster.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “R” for sexual content, nudity, language and drug use.)