The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Transamerica

Well here I go again, being contrarian to the majority opinion. Honestly, I don't do this just to be perverse!

I didn't think much of Transamerica. It sets up a big, juicy, unconventional story concept and then plays it out in as banal and conventional a manner as possible. The movie is written and directed with such incredible earnestness that you just want to tell writer/director Duncan Tucker not to try so damned hard.

The story introduces us to a transexual one week away from the final surgery to go from physical manhood to womanhood. Felicity Huffman plays Bree (who used to be Stanley) as an uncomfortable and somewhat unsure person who only has her earnest desire to be a fully-formed woman as the touchstone in her life. She'll do or say almost anything to reach her goal. Suddenly she finds out she has a 17-year-old son she never knew about.

Her therapist/counselor decides for reasons of plot convenience that Bree must go and confront/resolve this part of her past on her own before the counselor will approve the final surgery. This despite the fact that there is a one-year waiting list for the operation, it has taken Bree ages to get everything lined up with the money, the arrangements, and the other sign-offs needed, and the therapist was about to happily sign the consent form. Apparently it is more important to attempt a major emotional confrontation with someone who had no influence on or participation in Bree's adult life in a time-constrained, pressure-filled situation when her emotional and hormonal fragility is at its worst. Sounds like a recipe for success and happiness to me. I can see why the counselor didn't want to have anything to do with it herself.

But I digress.

Bree goes off to see the boy, Toby (played by Kevin Zegers) in an attempt to get him safely tucked away out of her life so she can continue on with her plans. Everything that follows could pretty much have been played out in a commonplace movie of the week plot: "Wounded mother in self-denial and wounded estranged son in self-denial find each other and through conflicts and shared experiences discover the importance of accepting each other... and themselves!" You can just hear the deep voiceover on the movie trailer, can't you?

Things play along at a slow, steady, and inevitable pace as Bree hides the fact that she still has male plumbing and that she is Toby's father (whom Toby has idealized and idolized in his fantasies). Then suddenly the two find themselves at Bree's childhood home, confronting her TV-sitcom family in situations that try for pathos but end up as farce, as the acting, writing, and direction crank up the volume to 11. The main catalyst for this is Fionnula Flanagan as Bree's monstrous mother. Flanagan wouldn't know an internalized emotion if it crawled up her leg and bit her. She shows her extensive roots in decades of network TV character roles with histrionics and scenery chewing that left me open-mouthed in amazement.

Anyway, at the end we all learn the little moralistic homily expressed above and the screen fades to black. I doubt I will ever spend another moment thinking about this film.

Acting kudos go primarily to Graham Greene as a friendly native American they meet on their journeys and to Zegers, who plays a number of quickly changing and conflicting emotions and needs realistically for a screwed up, rebellious 17-year-old. I'm going to get in a lot of trouble for this next comment, but I thought Huffman (who I admire and have greatly enjoyed as an actress on Sports Night, Frazier, and other TV fare) did mainly a stunt job here. It's all very "Victor/Victoria" as she is a woman playing a man playing a woman (yes, I know that is not politically correct for the transgender populace, but I'm talking about my perception of how the character came across. I felt like Bree was portrayed like "a man playing a woman" ... and it felt false to me.)

The photography is hit and miss. There are some gorgeous scenic shots and some very poor, grainy scenes. I liked the soundtrack, which uses a lot of different cultures and styles to move things along musically.

Parents: This is an adult-themed movie that talks frankly about transgender issues. There is male and female frontal nudity, sexual situations, themes of prostitution and pornography, underage smoking, drinking, drug use, and sex. There is no blood and some minor violence of the fistfight variety.

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