Transamerica (2005) starring Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Elizabeth Peña, Graham Greene, Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Carrie Preston directed by Duncan Tucker Movie Review

Transamerica (2005)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Kevin Zegers, Felicity Huffman and Graham Greene in Transamerica (2005)

Desperate to be a Housewife

I will bet that there are those who have been put off of watching "Transamerica" because they saw that it was a movie about a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual. It's a shame if they are because they are missing out on a witty, clever and touching drama which mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar. That unfamiliar part is obvious because of the fact we have a story about Bree who is 7 days from having surgery to become a woman who discovers years earlier had fathered a son. The familiar is that the story comes in the form of a road trip, where we have bonding, revelations and growth. And this mix of the familiar and unfamiliar as well as a brilliant performance from Felicity Huffman makes "Transamerica" transcend any reservations you may have due to the subject matter.

Bree (Felicity Huffman - Christmas with the Kranks), a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual, is just 7 days from putting her male past as Sidney behind her and becoming Bree on a permanent level. But out of the blue she gets a call from a young man called Toby (Kevin Zegers - Dawn of the Dead) who is looking for his father Sidney. With her therapist Maggie (Elizabeth Peña) insisting that she deals with this subject before surgery Bree heads to New York where pretending to be a Church worker meets Toby and ends up driving him back to L.A. with her bonding without him knowing that she is really his father.

 Kevin Zegers as Toby in Transamerica (2005)

So as already mentioned part of "Transamerica" is familiar as it takes the form of a road trip movie as Bree and Toby travel from New York where she has gone after receiving a call out of the blue from Toby looking for his father Sidney. The build up to this is that we learn that Bree who was Sidney is 7 days away from her final operation but her therapist insists she deals with this sudden revelation of a son before having the op. Now Bree doesn't tell Toby who she is, preferring to pretend she is a Christian doing her duty by helping a young man who has lost his way but it basically leads us to the road trip. And as such this road trip has various obvious elements most notably at the fact that whilst there is distance between Bree and Toby as they start the trip they grow close the more miles they travel together and get to know each other.

But then there is the unfamiliar side to this because whilst Bree is fearful of meeting Toby as they get to know each other she becomes a mother figure to him, caring for him in the same way a mother does for a son, telling him to eat his veg and take his feet off of the dashboard. And we also have Toby bonding with Bree growing close to her in a way neither of them expected. Now there are some very unfamiliar scenes along the way, we have Toby getting the shock of his life when he sees that Bree has a penis, a shock for us as well. And there is also a few more shocks further down the line when it comes to sex and relationships.

Now it is obvious that "Transamerica" is a movie with a subject matter which handled wrongly could have been crass. The whole element of Stanley being Bree could have been turned into a camp joke whilst Toby's feelings towards Bree being offensively repulsive. But writer and director Duncan Tucker has done a marvellous job of handling the whole story in a sensible way allowing us to have those occasional moments of subtle humour but never letting them turn this drama into cheap comedy. At the same time the subject of Toby's own sexuality is handled in a mature way, establishing motive without being implicit in the blame for why he does what he does and become what he has. There is also moments of humour, more genuine laugh moments when Bree and Toby are forced to pay her parents a visit with plenty of obvious jokes which highlight the fact that even normal is strange.

But the thing about "Transamerica" is that it is one performance which makes it work and that is from Felicity Huffman. Do you believe Huffman is playing a man on the verge of becoming a woman, well for me physically no, but emotionally yes. And that is why it is so good because Huffman gets across the emotional side of the whole movie, the inner need for the surgery to become what she knows she is as well as the fear of meeting Toby and the complications it will bring. But most importantly the clever maternal aspect that as they travel together she becomes a mother to Toby, caring for him and wanting what is best. It means that whilst Kevin Zegers does a good job of playing the confused Toby and a cast which features Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young and Graham Greene all are solid it is Felicity Huffman who makes us empathise with her character and understand her motives.

What this all boils down to is that "Transamerica" is a touching, witty and clever drama which transcends any reservations you may have to make us understand the character of Bree. If the thought of watching a movie about a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual is off putting get passed it because "Transamerica" is not some disturbing movie but a well acted, clever one which is not as offensive as it may sound for those who stay clear of these sorts of subject matter movies.