The independent film Transamerica, which did well at film festivals across the country and honored with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, is more than just a film focusing on hyped up subject matter and dealing with gender, but is also a journey film of self discovery while trying to fit in with society. After all, its tagline reads, “life is more than the sum of its parts,” and this film is more than just a film discussing “parts.”
Felicity Huffman plays Bree Osbourne–formerly Stanley Osbourne— who’s almost completed a series of sex-change operations and just when his therapist is about to give a recommendation for the final surgery, Bree gets the shock of his life when the teenage son he never knew existed calls and needs to be bailed out of jail. (Note: from here on out I’m going to call Bree a she, since that’s her appearance and what she wants to be). The therapist however refuses to sign the needed papers unless Bree goes and faces her past. Bree does not want to find her son and fears that she will lose her chance at getting the surgery, since it might be another year until she is able to get the coveted appointment at the hospital. Seeing no other choice she flies from California to New York City to bail the son she never knew she had out of prison. However, instead of letting the boy, Toby (Kevin Zegers) know that she is his long lost father, she pretends to be a born again Christian helping him to straighten out. Toby, who has his own troubles, reluctantly agrees to travel across the country with his new savior so that he can get over to Hollywood. Bree meanwhile plans on re-uniting Toby with his step-dad now that his mother is dead and he is all alone. The two of course reluctantly become friends during their cross-country journey riddled with road bumps and discovery. The biggest discovery being when Toby will find out that the woman he is riding with his not a woman and more importantly his father.
Although, Bree wanting to be a man, is an important element of the film it’s not the only one and despite the subject matter and unhappy moment’s the film is far from being a downer or depressing. It is in fact funny at times, especially seeing Bree struggle to control a teenage boy and “rough it” while going road tripping with her rebellious son. Most of all,
Transamerica does not force viewers to approve of the idea of transgender or push for any great resolution, but instead slowly peels away the layers of Bree’s character, showing her basic struggle for respect and a chance at happiness. Whatever your standpoint it is hard not to sympathize with Bree and his/her plight and effort to maintain harmony in a non-traditional family.
Whenever actors or actresses play the opposite sex in films, it can be very over the top and campy like Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, White Chicks, etc. However, Huffman tackles the difficult peformance of playing a man pretending to be a woman with simple, direct and thoroughly compelling acting. From the minute she is shown on screen you are at first shocked to see what looks like a masculine and homely looking woman, when we know Huffman is anything but. From there on it is like watching a man struggling to be accepted as a woman and not just a real woman to begin with, which is not an easy feat. Does this triumph deserve an Oscar? You and the Academy can be the judge, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Bree’s son played by Kevin Zegers is not a big name, but also delivers a powerful and quiet performance playing a caring yet troubled street kid in a compelling and real way. Other supporting appearances include Burt Young, who is most memorable for playing Rocky’s brother-in-law in the Rocky series, and Native Canadian actor Graham Greene playing an Indian cowboy who helps Toby and his “mother” move on to their next destination point.
Behind the Scenes
In order to make Felicity more masculine they actually sculpted and molded her face to look broader and more manly, going beyond just makeup. She looks almost unrecognizable. Besides the awesome job the makeup and wardrobe people did making Felicity look drab and unfeminine, the simple scenery and shots help make the film intimate, real and candid. The film focuses on the lower and middle class and portrays their lifestyles in it’s mise e scene and simple scenery shots.
The Final Cut
I was actually reluctant to see this film at first, because I thought it was going to be as upsetting as Boys Don’t Cry or other transgender films that I had seen in the past, however despite dealing with the same issues, Transamerica focuses on the light heartedness side as well as the difficult. While in the theater it was easy to forget that I was seeing what very well could have been a controversial film and instead felt like I was watching just another road movie or independent film focusing on unique characters and family drama, since the Transgender story doesn’t steal the show or is it the only draw for the film.
Extremely likeable characters and plot and a powerful performance by Huffman. Believe it or not this film could be considered a feel good movie.
Not as gut wrenching or involved as the plot could have been.
On the Side:
Dolly Parton’s new song “Travelin’ Thru,”which is featured at the end of the film is nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. Go Dolly!
Making the Grade:
The Story: A-
The Acting: A
Behind the Scenes: B
Tags: Entertainment, Blog, Movie Review, Film, Cinema, Oscar, Oscar Nominee