'Transamerica' *** 042706
Movie Review (2005)

The Work = ***
'Transamerica' is a film that is at its weakest when it is tied down by its own plot. The film follows a pre-op transsexual named Sabrina (or Bree for short) who desperately wants gender reassignment surgery to allow her to finally become... well... anatomically a her. The plot revolves around Bree’s trip to the doctor’s to get the surgery. She has one last visit with her psychologist Margaret (Elizabeth Peña) before her operation. Bree mentions her newly discovered son (that she fathered when she was still living as a man) and Margaret decides to not allow Bree to get the surgery until she gets in touch with her son. Oh, and I can’t forget, the surgery has a year long waiting list, so naturally the last minute inconvenience is especially troubling. Bree has to go meet up with her son (who coincidentally wants to go out west where Bree's doctor is located) and the two of them will be off on a road trip across the US.

The psychologist's attitude, the surgery deadline, and the road trip nature of the film all felt forced and sort of like a soap opera. However, 'Transamerica' does indeed work as a film, thanks largely to the performance of Felicity Huffman as Bree. Huffman plays the role with such conviction that I never doubted her for a moment. Whatever silliness the plot threw at her Huffman managed to handle with gusto and charm. The thing is, I liked Bree, Huffman plays her like someone who just can’t get a break but chugs on ahead anyway, trying to be polite and ladylike all the while.

I will leave out the twists and turns of the story but I will say that Bree is not exactly honest with her son Toby (Kevin Zegers.) She does not say that she is his mother. Well, actually was his father and is on her way to finally, anatomically, being his mother. Bree doesn’t exactly have an easy time of it either. When she has to go pick Toby up in New York she ends up having to finally identify herself as Toby’s father. Toby is not an easy companion and has been living a rough live despite still being pretty young.

I should say (actually, I probably should have mentioned this earlier,) 'Transamerica' deals with some fairly dark material in its travels. That the film is still enjoyable and never becomes depressing is commendable. I will not go into specifics but it is safe to say that Toby's past may be the hardest to deal with. The film is rated R and I would say probably rightly so but it is not a graphic film which is what helps to keep it enjoyable.

If I stop and think about the plot, 'Transamerica' seems like a weak film but maybe that is not the point. The movie is enjoyable and easy to recommend. The supporting cast help too; Zegers does what he can with the role of Toby but most of the time he is just required to pout. Burt Young and Fionnula Flanagan pop up as Bree’s indignant and ignorant parents and seem to have a good time playing people self absorbed and controlling to the point of comedy. Graham Greene has a small role as an aging rancher Calvin that seems drawn to Bree. Calvin seems like an interesting character but he is not in the film for very long.

I recommend this one and I know it will have its fans that will deeply connect with the film. I wish the plot had felt a bit less forced and I wanted to find out more about the characters. Still, it is enjoyable in spite of its sometimes dark material. 'Transamerica' is recommended.


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