© 2006 Ray Wong
The title Transamerica has double meanings. The film is essentially a buddy road trip. It is also about a transsexual named Bree. The result is an interesting mix of characters study and absurd plot twists.
Bree Osbourne (Huffman) is a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual who is about to get her gender reassignment operation in a week. Unexpectedly, she learns that she has a 17 year old son, Toby (Zegers), the result of a drunken night with a college girlfriend. Worse, Toby is a street hustler and a junkie. Bree would have nothing to do with him; however, her therapist, Margaret (Pena), won’t sign the consent form unless Bree deals with the situation. Bree flies to New York to bail Toby out, then decides to embark on a cross-country trip back to Los Angeles with Toby. The story unfolds as Bree and Toby get to know each other, while they both have secrets they would never want the other person to know.
Huffman (Desperate Housewives) is the heart and soul of the film. Her performance as a transsexual is brilliant. With the help of makeup that turns the sexy actress homely and mannish, she transforms herself into a man who is not at all comfortable in her own skin (or with a penis). Huffman makes us believe in the character with her wit, humor and humanity. She’s inspirationa. Zegers (The Hollow) is also excellent as Toby. He shows good control of his character’s external cockiness and confidence as well as his internal insecurity, vulnerability and loneliness. The talented young actor holds his own just fine against Huffman’s beautiful performance. They share great on-scream chemistry.
The supporting cast is good, too. Flanagan (Mad About Dog) turns a caricature into an interesting character as Bree’s religious mother. Young (Land of Plenty) is amiable as her husband Murray. Preston (The Stepford Wives) is loopy as Bree’s sister Sydney. Greene (The Green Mile) is solid as Calvin, a kind American Indian who has the eye for Bree. Pena (The Incredibles) is lovely as Bree’s therapist.
The script by writer-director Tucker (The Mountain King) is uneven. Part of the story and the script is very funny and heart-warming, but part of it is rather clichéd and forced. The plot doesn’t flow well in places, and it feels like the characters are doing what they’re told (by the writer) – it lacks certain authenticity. However, Tucker has succeeded in giving us some deep and emotionally three-dimensional characters, especially Bree and Toby. Their relationship gels and you feel for them and want good things to happen to them, even though they both screw up badly. Tucker’s dialogue is often witty and insightful, but can be corny occasionally.
Tucker’s raw skills as a director lends a certain genuine charm to the film. The plain, grainy cinematography and the abrupt editing seem unrefined at times, but they seem to fit the story. Transamerica is an odd story about two outsiders who find each other. While we might not identify with the central characters and their choices, we come to care about them through Huffman’s outstanding performance as well as Zeger’s. While it won’t transform America, this little film deserves notice, and Huffman deserves her Oscar nomination (and maybe even a win).
Stars: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Elizabeth Pena, Graham Greene, Burt Young, Carrie Preston
Director: Duncan Tucker
Writer: Duncan Tucker
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and drug use
Running Time: 103 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.2 out of 10