Thursday, December 21, 2006

Transsexual Transformation in Transamerica

Step aside Thelma and Louis, pull over Sideways, make way for Transamerica - one of the most bizarre yet compelling road trips in recent cinematic history: a man driving to an operation to make him a woman, a father/mother driving his son to become a porn star, a son riding with his father/mother he does not know, a son unwittingly hitting on his father/mother.



Wonderful Felicity Huffman, of Desperate Housewives fame, plays a pre-operation male-to-female transsexual Sabrina “Bree” Osbourne (also known as Stanley). Bree’s preparation for the final stages of her physical transformation is encumbered by the discovery of a son from a previous heterosexual encounter. Toby (played by Kevin Zegers) is in jail and New York authorities call his father, Stanley/Bree, to bail him out. Bree’s therapist withholds the written permission for the sex-change operation unless Bree resolves the situation with her newly discovered son. Bree heads to New York and is mistaken by Toby as a Christian missionary. Both decide to take a road trip back to Los Angeles, Bree to have her operation, Toby to pursue his dreams of being a superstar in the porn film industry. Their road trip is full of twists and turns – a scheming hitchhiker who stole their car, a kind-hearted cowboy of Native American descent who fell for Bree, an accidental and revealing penis exposure, dysfunctional parents becaming dysfunctional grandparents, a sibling rivalry turned sister act, and a heart wrenching confession of a father turned mother to a surprised and confused son.

The heart and soul of Transamerica is undoubtedly Felicity Huffman who should have brought home the Best Actress trophy from the 78th Annual Academy Awards. Huffman’s physical transformation, vocal scoring, subtle yet powerful acting coupled with unmistakable compassion for the character elevate her performance to new heights.

Though the film does have its pitfalls and contrived scenes such as the unnecessary stopover in a house full of pre-op and post op transsexuals, Duncan Tucker’s first film proffers a sensitive but not mushy, funny but not degrading, informative but not preachy story about a woman born in a man’s body. As we take a ride with Bree and her transformation, Transamerica hopes to transcend intolerance and ignorance towards understanding transsexuals.

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