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Thread: Duncan Tucker: Transamerica (2005)

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    Duncan Tucker: Transamerica (2005)

    Duncan Tucker: Transamerica (2005)

    Review by Chris Knipp

    This indie road movie about a preoperative male-to-female transsexual is surprisingly lighthearted and entertaining, while tricking the mainstream audience that sees it into identifying with some of the real issues of sex change. Bree (Felicity Huffman) is in California working in a Mexican restaurant and telemarketing as the movie begins and her operation is about to happen. But when a 17-year-old son she fathered in her one straight sexual relationship turns up in jail in New York needing bail, her therapist won't sign off on the operation till she's dealt with this "parenting" issue.

    Posing as a Christian social worker, Bree flies back (though this isn’t made very clear in the somewhat lackluster early section) and retrieves the boy, Tony (Kevin Zegers). They bond and wind up on a cross country trip in a used car. Tony wants to go to Hollywood to become a gay porn star, and Bree must return there for her operation, so off they go, but with funny adventures along the way.

    Bree lives in “stealth,” posing as a female but not yet transformed into one. Tony doesn’t know she’s a he, and certainly not that she’s his dad. And that’s a problem: children shouldn’t be lied to. The suspense of the trip is about when and how much Tony will find out and how he’ll react.

    Bree and Tony make an odd pair. She is aggressively but primly feminine and a little plain and unsexy, though an Indian (Graham Greene) whom they meet in a lunchroom along the way takes a real shine to her. Tony is not only a stunner, but a gay hustler with a drug problem: he’s from Mysterious Skin territory and when she takes him to his stepfather in Kentucky more of the harsh background emerges. He’s angry at her for lying to him, but he also seems to love her in his fashion. They literally camp, and when Tony insists they pick up a cute boy in dreadlocks who likes peyote, they get their car stolen as a reward and have to hitchhike. Eventually they wind up at Bree’s parents’ posh spread in Phoenix and David O. Russell’s most hilarious moments in Flirting With Disaster are evoked there by the larger-than-life, controlling Christian mom (Fionnula Flanagan) and the laid back Jewish dad (Burt Young). A sister just out of rehab (Carrie Preston) provides a bridge. Mom thinks Tony is a piece of trash till she finds out he’s her grandson, whereupon she instantly adores and adopts him. This sequence is the highlight of a trip writer-director Tucker keeps continually lively.

    The lightheartedness ends when the operation is covered seriously, with its terrible doubts afterward. These variations in tone work because of Huffman’s dedicated but wonderfully modest performance. This may be viewed as Transsexuals for Dummies. and the liberal indie message comes a little too sugarcoated for those in search of edge; but Tucker has an unmistakable gift for specific observation and his individual scenes would be great if they interconnected a bit better. Felicity Huffman has gotten a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Bree. Girls and gay boys who tire of Huffman's noble, tireless character can just admire the voluptuous Zegers.



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  2. #2
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    On the Road Again

    TRANSAMERICA
    Written & Directed by Duncan Tucker


    A perky spokesperson is on the television. “This is the voice I want to use,” she repeats, staring directly into the camera. Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman) watches this instructional tape, using it as yet one more step to ultimately eliminate every trace of Stanley Schupack, the man she once was and biologically still is, or at least she still will be for the next week. Bree is a pre-operation, male-to-female transsexual with a definite distaste for all things supposedly male. This means anything vulgar or classless and even her penis. She would much rather embrace all that is delicate, artistic, and insightful. These conscious decisions show gender as a performance, a calculated choice to put forth the parts of you that you identify as more innately masculine or feminine in accordance with who you want to be. In Bree’s case, the decisions she makes are often awkward and misplaced, from the jerkiness of her walk to her often difficult-to-process-how -she-rationalized-that-was-a-good-look-for-her ensembles. Despite that, the decisions she makes are her own and having made them and consequently sticking with them is more important than the decisions themselves. After all, she is about to make a much bigger decision that she will have to live with for the rest of her life

    Just as Bree can almost feel the jarring cold of the surgical knife on her skin, she learns that her one sexual fumble with a woman back in college, when she was still Stanley, led to the birth of a child. (oh, those silly college experimentations.) That child, Toby (Kevin Zegers), has gotten himself arrested and sent to a juvenile detention unit up in New York City. In response, Bree’s therapist will not sign off on her authorization to go ahead with the surgery if Bree refuses to confront this boy and her past. Upon meeting Toby, Bree learns that he hustles to earn a living and enjoys his hallucinogenics while he is still holding on to his dream of making it in the movies. He aims high but he’s still a realist, acknowledging that his big future in the film industry will likely be in gay porn. From the looks of him in his undies, I dare say he’s a pretty perceptive kid, not to mention a good shot at success. In the driver’s seat we have a timid and awkward father who will soon be a mother but has not divulged this much to her son. In the passenger seat, we have an ambitious and bright young man who has lost his way without realizing. And thus begins the great transamerican road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. Bree’s seemingly unsolicited act of kindness inspires Toby to be a better man and return that kindness to this stranger. This cycle continues along the way as we watch two people who are so acutely aware of the roles they portray to the world, shed their thick skins and take on new roles without even realizing they’re doing it. One is trying to be heard right now and the other has tried for so long not to be seen. Yet on this cross country trek, they both leave these acts they’re so used to aside and embrace their new selves as a mother who helps her child see his worth and a child who makes his mother feel more like a woman than any instructional videotape or hormone she’s ever seen or taken.

    Felicity Huffman knows how to play a reluctant mother. As the exhausted mother of four, Lynette Scavo on television’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, Huffman exhibits her strengths as an actress by playing Lynette as a woman who relies on her instincts. She is protective and fierce while still sensitive and nurturing. While her television character’s hesitation comes from a lack of confidence in her abilities to embody one of life’s most natural roles, her TRANSAMERICA film persona holds back for mostly selfish reasons. She has not felt like herself her entire life (The look of disgust on her face when a doctor asks how she feels about her penis hits hard for how quick and harsh a reaction it is). Having a problem son to deal with and eventually confront regarding his misconceived notions about his birth father is a direct obstacle that she had not counted on. This is her initial fear but Bree is actually terrified that she has no nurturing capabilities just like her television counterpart. It is only by spending time with her son that she comes to learn that she has much wisdom to impart upon him, that she was not ruined entirely by her parents or that she could stand to learn a thing or two from him as well.

    The issue of control, having it in one’s life or over one’s self is a struggle for most but can be even more of an arduous challenge for marginalized people, like a transsexual person. He or she not only needs to ingest numerous hormones in order be more like the person they feel they are inside which is in complete contradiction to the body they’ve been given but they then have to deal with the ignorance and judgment that is given to them each time they put on their armor and walk outside their door. TRANSAMERICA is a film about learning how to incorporate the person you’ve always known yourself to be, the person you so desperately want to become and about healing the relationships with the people you meet and touch along the winding road that gets you there.
    Last edited by mouton; 01-21-2006 at 06:39 PM.
    I have no idea what I'm doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.
    - Woody Allen

  3. #3
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    Glad to have another response and one from somebody who obviously got a lot out of it. YOu added more because you know the TV series, which I don't. I liked "her often difficult-to-process-how-she-rationalized-that-was-a-good-look-for-her ensembles." This was an important comment you made: "The issue of control, having it in one’s life or over one’s self is a struggle for most but can be even more of an arduous challenge for marginalized people, like a transsexual person."

  4. #4
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    Re: Duncan Tucker: Transamerica (2005)

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    These variations in tone work because of Huffman’s dedicated but wonderfully modest performance. This may be viewed as Transsexuals for Dummies
    This comes closest to my reaction of all the comments here. Almost everything I liked about Transamerica has to do with the creation of the main character, a credit to Mr. Tucker's writing and Ms. Huffman's acting. One gets the sense throughout the picture of a self-made identity, a persona under construction. This doesn't merely apply to obvious aspects like voice and body shape. Consider for instance Bree's vocabulary_ certainly not one she picked up at home from her vulgar parents, and the slighly slowed, consciously precise enunciation.

    Lamentably, and Chris and mouton might disagree, I don't think Mr. Tucker realized how interesting and multi-faceted Bree is; enough to carry a movie without the Flirting with Disaster hijinks, the shocks provided by having Toby inexplicably come on to Bree, and the cheap suspense manufactured by delaying beyond rationality Toby figuring out that Bree is a close relation, not some "Christian social worker".
    I may still include Transamerica in my 2005 list as an "honorable mention" on the strength of Tucker and Hoffman's singular creation. Maybe, I'll list favorite performances this year, so that I can hail Bree without having to list the movie, which is just not good enough.

  5. #5
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    Transamerica (2005) - Duncan Tucker

    This film has it's moments. It brought Felicity Huffman a first time Oscar nomination, which we're yet to see if she can win. The film itself is humorous for the most part with of course the occasional drama thrown in for good measure. The film however is a little uneven, and many of the characters (particularly Bri/Stanley's mother) are just cartoonish. The film is flawed most assuredly, but it has redeeming qualities, the best of which is Huffman's performance, as well as Grahame Greene's appearance.

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