TransAmerica
©  2005-2010  by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

      Sometimes an actor can give a memorable performance in a film that
is flawed. That’s the case with Felicity Huffman in
TRANSAMERICA. She’s
like a perfect diamond in a cheap setting. Her turn as a male
to female pre-operative transsexual is grounded in reality. The plot of the
film in which she appears, however, contains more holes than a gopher
range.

      Huffman is cast as Bree (nee Stanley), who is a few weeks away
from finally undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Living in Southern
California, she’s gone through the hormones, worked to make her voice
more feminine and has spent the better part of the last few years
transforming into a female persona all the while flying just under the
radar of everyone around her. Since this is a case of a woman playing a
man who is in the process of becoming a woman, there are many layers to
her performance and Huffman hits all the right notes. I just wish that the
story that writer-director Duncan Tucker had come up with matched her
impeccable portrayal.

      Instead, the actress has been saddled with a regrettable story. One
week before her surgery, Bree receives an upsetting phone call. A youthful
indiscretion with a fellow college student resulted in a previously
unknown son – and now that teenager – Toby (Kevin Zegers) is a runaway
who has run afoul of the law in New York City. In one of the first
questionable plot points, Bree’s psychiatrist (Elizabeth Peña) refuses
to sign the consent for the surgery until Bree/Stanley deals with the boy.
Forced to dip into her savings, Bree flies to Manhattan and bails out the
boy. For his part, Toby mistakes Bree for a Christian missionary,
something that Bree doesn’t discourage. When she learns that Toby plans
to skip out and travel to California in search of his father, she panics and
agrees to drive him cross country – planning to drop the kid off with his
stepfather in Kentucky.

      That turns out to be a mistake, of course. Bree and Toby continue on
their journey and form a sort of bond – until Toby discovers that Bree is
really a man. Instead of simply coming clean – there wouldn’t be a
movie otherwise – Bree continues to lie, until circumstances force the two
to end up at her parents’ home in Arizona. Of course, the truth eventually
will come out – but by the time it does, one simply doesn’t care.

      If it weren’t for the performances of Huffman and Zegers, the film
could easily have been dismissed as pointless. Huffman has been
appropriately lauded for her work and she is probably assured of the
requisite award recognition. Zegers, however, hasn’t received as much
attention whereas he should. His work as the sullen, pansexual Toby is
stellar and he plays well off Huffman. In addition, Graham Greene makes
a fine impression as a kind-hearted cowboy who befriends the duo and
Fionnula Flanagan is terrific in her few scenes as Stanley/Bree’s
overbearing mother.

      Reportedly, Tucker was inspired to write this script when he
discovered that one of his roommates, actress Katherine Connella, was
transgendered. He also interviewed Calpernia Addams, who appears
briefly in the film, and whose relationship with Barry Winchell formed the
basis for the superb Showtime movie
SOLDIER’S GIRL. It’s unfortunate
that the story he came up was so disappointing. His actors deserved so
much better.



                       
Rating:               C+
                       
MPAA Rating:      R for sexual content, nudity,
                                                    language and drug use
                       
Running time:      103 mins