Thursday, August 9, 2012

Transamerica

Can a road trip movie with a transgender character rise above expectations?



Transamerica is the story of a post-operative transsexual named Sabrina (Bree) Claire Osborne, who two weeks before her scheduled male to female sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) discovers she has a son. Toby, a seventeen-year-old street hustler that is currently in jail, phones Bree looking for Stanley — the father he has never met, the man Bree once was.  Bree hangs up and continues making her telemarketing calls. She mentions the call to her therapist, but then quickly dismisses the validity of the boys claim and pushes it out of her head. She is determined that nothing will detour her from the only thing in her life that matters – the surgery.

Bree’s therapist however insists that she has to deal with her past before she can take the next step towards her future. She refuses to sign the needed paperwork for the surgery until Bree confronts the situation.  Bree bails Toby out of the youth correctional facility without revealing her true identity, and gives him $100. When she learns that he is planning to hitchhike to California to star in porno movies, Bree buys a car and offers him a ride. Her intention of reuniting Toby with his stepfather; unaware of why Toby left in the first place, backfires.

Though the “road trip” does have some clich├ęs, director Duncan Tucker uses the ride to reveal the strengths, weaknesses, fears and aspirations of the characters, which he accomplishes with humor and sensitivity. With each mile the journey evolves in ways that Bree never expected.

The film doesn’t make sweeping statements about trans-sexuality. Though there is some dialogue between Bree and her estranged family on the issue, and there is a short scene at the home of another transsexual played by Bianca Leigh, the story is more about a character that happens to be transsexual than it is a film with a transsexual agenda.

Engaging from beginning to end Transamerica works for two simple reasons: engaging characters that you come to know and care about, and strong performances from the entire cast (Felicity Huffman’s superb performance earned her a Golden Globe Best Actress award).

Transamerica is a solid film on many levels. 4 stars.

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