Gender Fender Bender

Life is hardly convenient. What we have and what we want are rarely the same things. But thank goodness, life is always changing, always in motion. All we have to do is nudge it in the direction we want. This seems to be Bree’s (Felicity Huffman) strategy in life. You see, Bree was born with a dinky. He/She used to be Stan the man. He/she is fixing that problem by having a sex operation. He’s/She’s done with the therapy. The only step left is getting rid of the package.

“Wait a minute now!” the inconvenient life (aka the screenwriter) interrupts. “You have to hold on, Bree. Because guess what. You have a teenage son you never knew about and his name is Toby (Kevin Zeggers).”

Bree goes nuts and her thinking might have gone like this: “Is this a joke? Am I being punked? Seriously, what are the odds that someone like me could have a child? Is this happening? Is someone deliberately messin’ with my head? I’m in a movie, right? This must be a movie!”

Well, Bree, life screwed you up again and it’s time to put that personal strategy into use. While life is moving, go nudge the boy away from your life.

“Oh no, Bree. It doesn’t work that way,” says her therapist (Elizabeth Pena). It’s totally against psycho mambojumbo for Bree to ignore a part of his/her past. So Bree goes to New York to save his/her delinquent son. Posing as a Christian missionary, Bree bails Toby out from jail and then attempts to drive the kid back to his hometown. Hopefully, that’s the end of that.

“Not so fast!” the tormenting life (aka the sadistic screenwriter) interrupts once again. “I wouldn’t make it that easy for you! Amuse me with your suffering!”

How fortunate that Transamerica is a film that largely depends on its lead actors’ abilities, because the story is mediocre. Felicity Huffman, unheard of before “Desperate Housewives,” commands the film like a pro. She masters Bree’s self-conscious gait and lowered voice. I mean, this is a role that could’ve made Huffman a lock for Best Actress, but the movie doesn’t help her out. As much Huffman tries to humanize Bree, the movie sometimes treats her like a joke. As good as Huffman was, I imagine that it would have been better if Bree was actually played by a transsexual. It would have made the movie more poignant and less of a stunt. Kevin Zeggers, a relatively unknown but promising actor, is a very good find as Toby. He’s got a young DiCaprio vibe going on. He establishes a nice rapport with Huffman and boldly embodies Toby’s tricky transformation.

Despite a daring climax, the plot of Transamerica is problematic for me. This road trip movie needs a better sense of direction. Sometimes it doesn’t know whether to head for comedy or drama. (In its website, it is being marketed as “original American movie comedy” and yet, Huffman won the Golden Globe in the Drama Category). True, life is a bit of both, but Transamerica combines them so badly. The comedic set-ups hardly make the story believable and in return, the drama suffers for it. Even when the film looks comedic (see Fionnula Flanagan), it’s played in overdramatic fashion. So not quite a drama. Not quite a comedy. It’s sorta both, but clumsily put together like a grotesque Frankenstein.

“Ahem. Back it up, Transamerica. You need a genre operation.”

Grade: B-

Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Graham Greene, Burt Young, Elizabeth Peña, Carrie Preston, and Grant Monohon
Screenplay by
Duncan Tucker
Directed by
Duncan Tucker
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and drug use