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TRANSAMERICA

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Elizabeth Pena, Graham Greene
Director:  Duncan Tucker
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  The Weinstein Company
Features:  See Review
Length:  104 Minutes
Release Date:  May 23, 2006

“That’ll put hair on your chest.”

“I hope not.”

Film ***1/2

I’ll be darned…after spending months clamoring for my beloved Reese Witherspoon to win the Oscar for Best Actress of 2005, my brain is demanding a recount.

Felicity Huffman, in Transamerica, turned in one of the most original, funny, heartbreaking and unforgettable performances I’ve had the pleasure of viewing.  In fact, the movie itself is original, funny, heartbreaking and unforgettable.  Writer/director Duncan Tucker crafted a picture that blends the ingredients of comfortable formulas like road movies or stories of dysfunctional families and comes up with a truly unique recipe.  And it rests formidably on Ms. Huffman’s comfortable shoulders.

She plays Bree, formerly Stanley, a transsexual man on the verge of finally becoming a woman.  With only a week to go before her life altering surgery, however, she finds she has to deal with a completely unexpected snag:  a 17 year old son that she never knew existed.

Toby (Zegers) is in juvenile hall in New York for drugs and soliciting.  The authorities tracked Stanley (sorry, Bree) down as his closest living relative.  And Bree’s psychiatrist withholds her consent for gender changing surgery until Bree meets the boy and comes to terms with that part of her life.

She doesn’t tell Toby she’s his father or that she’s a man, and on that basis, the two set off on a cross country road trip to Los Angeles so that Bree can become the woman she’s meant to be, and hopefully Toby can become the man HE’S meant to. 

The bulk of the picture is these two very different but very similarly damaged souls learning to deal with one another.  Their escapades are both comic and tragic, and frequently both, such as when they meet up with a Native American (Greene), who might have been what Bree needed most if she could only learn to let go, and a terrific misadventure with Bree’s parents (Flanagan and Young), who find their son’s…er, daughter’s strange life growing more and more bizarre in their eyes.

This is a family that put the ‘dys’ in dysfunction.  Bree’s mother can’t accept what she’s about to do, but seems amusingly delighted at learning she has a grandson, even if HE doesn’t know it.  And Toby?  Well, this isn’t really a typical story about how love and family can put lives back on track.  Most of us know from our own experiences that they can screw up as many things as they can fix.

The emotional current is so strong and true throughout the film that we manage to always regard these characters with warm affection, even when they do things that shock us.  And believe me, there is more than one uncomfortable moment in the film.  One involves Felicity Huffman using nature’s facilities, and it was enough to make me wonder why this picture didn’t get a nomination for Best Special Effects.  Or Best Makeup.  Something.

This is the kind of film that reminds us why we love our families in spite of their flaws, or sometimes, because of them.  Bree won my heart.  I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman trapped in a man’s body.  Hell, sometimes I’m not even sure I know what it’s like to be a man trapped in a man’s body.  But Huffman’s performance and Tucker’s writing finds a perfect current of empathy.  It’s easy and rewarding to let confining definitions melt away and just see human beings on the screen.

So Reese…I’m sorry, but I’m jilting you.  You’ll always be my first love, but for 2005, it’s Felicity Huffman on my arm.  But I’m sure you and Oscar will be very happy together and you’ll forget about me.

Video ***

The Weinstein Company offers a nice anamorphic transfer that shows the American heartland in all its glory, from the mountains to the deserts to the woods.  Colors are well-represented, and detail levels range from slightly soft to quite good.  A little grain is noticeable here and there in the darker sequences, but nothing to really worry about.

Audio ***

It’s a dialogue driven film spiced up with some great folksy bluegrass music, including Dolly Parton’s Oscar nominated “Travelin’ Through”.  Not much demand is made on the rear stages or subwoofer, but for this kind of movie, you won’t miss them.

Features ***

There is a good commentary track with Duncan Tucker, along with two one-on-one interview segments, one with him and Huffman and one with him and Zegers.  There’s also a blooper reel, a trailer, and a music video and making-of extra on “Travelin’ Through”.

Summary:

Movies can really let you walk the proverbial mile in someone else’s shoes…even if they happen to be high heels.  Felicity Huffman turned in a performance for the ages, and Duncan Tucker proved himself a true rising force on the Hollywood scene with this funny, touching, and entirely memorable filmed offering.

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