Transamerica – 2005

Okay so Transamerica isn’t exactly a classic, but it’s a film I’ve wanted to see since it came out and I always found one excuse or another why I couldn’t watch it.  Besides, it received a boatload of award nominations including an Best Actress Oscar nomination and a Best Actress in a Drama Golden Globe WIN for Felicity Huffman.   It isn’t exactly a dog, this film.   This week HBO(SG) was showing it so I finally DVR’d it and gave it a watch today.

William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman are my favorite Hollywood couple maybe only second to Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, so I feel like I’m going into this movie already prejudiced toward liking it.

I’m always leery, though, of films like this.  I don’t find transgender issues to be particularly funny.  Watch the documentary Southern Comfort and there is nothing humorous to me about the way these people are treated in society.  So my concern was that Huffman’s character would be cartoonish but instead she is warm and likable and you understand immediately how she’s feeling, why she’s doing what she’s doing and how badly she wants to turn away from her other life.

Elizabeth Pena, wildly underrated and underused in Hollywood, is fabulous in her too brief role as Bree’s (Huffman’s character) psychologist.  It’s obvious from the get-go that this film isn’t going to be about how other people do or don’t accept Bree, it’s about how she accepts herself and both of her lives.  Pena as the therapist is supportive but realistic and she won’t let Bree get the vaginoplasty she needs to complete her transformation to female unless she deals with all of her life stuff first.

The rest of the film deals with the relationship building between Bree and the 17 year-old son she didn’t know she had.  The son calls one night looking for Stan, Bree’s male self, and Bree ends up going across the country to New York to bail him out of jail, only the son, Toby, thinks she’s a missionary just trying to help him out.

The film is totally character based.  Not much action (and, I’m writing this after watching it not while watching it, but I don’t recall their being a musical montage – points for the director Duncan Tucker!) but the pace of the movie is actually a lot faster than you’d expect.   The supporting cast is as good as the two leads and my only two disappointments in the film is that they didn’t have time to show a relationship between Graham Greene’s character and Bree and that we didn’t see more of Bree’s family, especially her sister, played by True Blood‘s fabulous Carrie Preston.

You don’t get the storybook ending, although Bree gets her completed sex reassignment.  The last scene Huffman and Pena have together is poignant without being schmaltzy.  A week before her surgery, Bree wanted no connections to her past life and though all she needed to be happy was the surgery.  But she loses Toby once he finds out she’s his father and even with the surgery, not having Toby to complete her devastates her.

In the end, Toby and Bree reunite.  It isn’t over the top and the movie ends with you realizing that they have a lot of work to do and knowing that they both know that and seem willing to work at it.

I cried at the scene between Bree and her doctor where she breaks down after her surgery.  But aside from that, most of the film just made me smile.  Felicity Huffman certainly deserved her nominations but Kevin Zegers was terribly overlooked.  His character is complex and interesting and even when he’s being a little shit you understand it and accept it.

I haven’t deleted this from the dvr yet because I feel like I should watch it again.  It seems like it’s the kind of movie that has all kinds of hidden good things that you pick up after multiple viewings.  I’ll keep it there for a while.

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