movie log: Transamerica (2005)

Watched March 16, 2009: Transamerica directed by Duncan Tucker, starring Felicity Huffman and Kevin Zegers.

Huffman plays Bree Osbourne – whose given name is Stanley – a man about to go through gender reassignment surgery (i.e. to become a woman). At about the last possible moment, she receives a phone call from a teenager named Toby (Zegers) who his looking for his father Stanley. It seems that Stanley had slept with a woman in college who had, unbeknownst to him, become pregnant and given birth to Toby. Bree’s counselor (played by Elizabeth Peña) will not give her required permission for the surgery until Bree resolves, or apparently at least investigates, this new conflict in her life. Bree travels from LA to New York to find that she has to bail Toby out of jail for prostitution. Through a series of minor events, both Bree and Toby end up driving an old dilapidated car across country to get to LA, with Toby having no idea that the woman he sees next to him in the car is really his father.

At this point it just becomes a road trip movie. As with any road trip movie, the characters encounter a number of odd characters, get into scrapes, have the inevitable misunderstandings, hatred, bonding, soul-searching, and truth-finding. The issues of Bree’s sexuality and her hatred of her male body versus Toby’s overactive exploitation of his do come up, but not, in general, with any deep social commentary, but most often are merely factors contributing to the road trip formula. Indeed, not overly obsessing on the social and moral issues can be seen as saying something: that these are just elements in these peoples’ lives, lives that have troubles and emotions and difficulties that we can relate to just as if they were caused by anything else. You can point, for example, to the fact that Bree’s issues of sexual identity alienate her from her parents. In another universe, or with other people, that alienation would come from other causes, and the story could play out much as it does here. Except, I think, for the acting. Felicity Huffman does a great job playing a man who is becoming a woman, and I would recommend seeing this movie just for that.

The always-enjoyable Graham Green makes an appearance as a man who helps the couple out while taking a shine to Bree; Burt Young and Fionnula Flanagan do a nice job as Bree’s parents.