5 December 2005 | noralee
An Amusing and Heartfelt Twist on the Cross-Country Mis-Matched Pair Genre
"Transamerica" follows the trajectory of the long tradition of road movies with opposites paired up on a voyage of self-discovery, with stops along the way to their pasts.
The gimmick here recalls "Broken Flowers"s trip when another biological father discovers a son. Here, it's not just that the person who produced the sperm is on the verge of transsexual completion that helps the film rise above various genre clichés (there was more than passing similarity to scenes from such films as "The Sure Thing," "Smoke Signals," and "Midnight Run" in debut writer/director Duncan Tucker's script, plus unfortunate throwback images of the south from "Deliverance" and way over-the-top dysfunctional families, and some Native American commentary on transsexuals coinciding with a convenient appearance by the ever estimable Graham Greene.)
As graphically embodied in two terrific performances, "Bree" (Felicity Huffman as née "Stanley") and the new-found son "Toby" have opposite relations to their bodies. Having felt like a stealth woman trapped in a man's body, "Bree" is naive to the pleasures of the flesh and is used to having to be wrapped up tight in her struggle to control normality that has impeded every part of her life.
"Toby" is an abused gay hustler who probably for good reason and profit assumes that people of either gender or those in-between are responding to him physically (and Kevin Zegers is such an unfettered, tousled Adonis that he is even more sensual than Joseph Gordon-Levitt's somewhat similar screwed-up kid in "Mysterious Skin").
Both have had only negative experiences with family, as we see along the way, and both have a lot to learn about the parent/child relationship and honesty.
While it makes it too easy for the audience's perception to have the transsexual be played by an actress (like Vanessa Redgrave as Renee Richards or Olympia Dukakis in "Tales of the City" or Famke Janssen on "Nip/Tuck" vs. Terence Stamp in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") with only two momentary reversion lapses to masculine mannerisms played for laughs and revelation, at least for more realism "Bree" is not in the arts or some high-powered white-collar job.
There were a lot of chuckles throughout the film, but I was surprised that not all of the folks at the crowded opening weekend matinée of a very mixed gay and straight audience joined in. (Though the two guys next to me who had been discussing "Lord of the Rings" just before the film started were uproarious at "Toby"s analysis of the gay sub-text in that story.) It was a cheap shot for easy laughs to have "Bree" be half-Jewish.
While I thought it was for symbolism that the two have a key stop-over in Phoenix, it turns out that was filmed at the director's parents' house in Arizona. I presume the kid's concluding black cowboy hat and blond hair is a bit of an homage to "Midnight Cowboy."
The soundtrack selections are excellent reflections of the environments the characters are in, from Latin in California, to hip hop in New York to a lovely range of Southern country and gospel, moving through Texas with a Lucinda Williams track, Native American in New Mexico, with a beautiful new Dolly Parton song over the credits that should get an Oscar nomination.