Saturday, January 21, 2006


Written and Directed by Duncan Tucker
Starring Felicity Huffman and Kevin Zegers

A perky spokesperson is on the television at the onset of TRANSAMERICA. “This is the voice I want to use,” she repeats, staring directly into the camera. Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman) watches this instructional tape, using it as yet one more step to ultimately eliminate every trace of Stanley Schupack, the man she once was and biologically still is, or at least she still will be for the next week. Bree is a pre-operation, male-to-female transsexual with a definite distaste for all things supposedly male. This means anything vulgar or classless and even her penis. She would much rather embrace all that is delicate, artistic, and insightful. These conscious decisions show gender as a performance, a calculated choice to put forth the parts of you that you identify as more innately masculine or feminine in accordance with who you want to be. In Bree’s case, the decisions she makes are often awkward and misplaced, from the jerkiness of her walk to her often difficult-to-process-how-she-rationalized-that-was-a-good-look-for-her ensembles. Despite that, the decisions she makes are her own and having made them and consequently sticking with them is more important than the decisions themselves. After all, she is about to make a much bigger decision that she will have to live with for the rest of her life.

Just as Bree can almost feel the jarring cold of the surgical knife on her skin, she learns that her one sexual fumble with a woman back in college, when she was still Stanley, led to the birth of a child. (Oh, those silly college experimentations.) That child, Toby (Kevin Zegers), has gotten himself arrested and sent to a juvenile detention unit up in New York City. In response, Bree’s therapist will not sign off on her authorization to go ahead with the surgery if Bree refuses to confront this boy and her past. Upon meeting Toby, Bree learns that he hustles to earn a living and enjoys his hallucinogenics, while he is still holding on to his dream of making it in the movies. He aims high but he’s still a realist, acknowledging that his big future in the film industry will likely be in gay porn. From the looks of him in his undies, I dare say he’s a pretty perceptive kid, not to mention a good shot at success. In the driver’s seat we have a timid and awkward father who will soon be a mother but has not divulged this much to her son. In the passenger seat, we have an ambitious and bright young man who has lost his way without realizing. And thus begins the great transamerican road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. Bree’s seemingly unsolicited act of kindness inspires Toby to be a better man and return that kindness to this stranger. This cycle continues along the way as we watch two people who are so acutely aware of the roles they portray to the world, shed their thick skins and take on new roles without even realizing they’re doing it. One is trying to be heard right now and the other has tried for so long not to be seen. Yet on this cross country trek, they both leave these acts they’re so used to aside and embrace their new selves as a mother who helps her child see his worth and a child who makes his mother feel more like a woman than any instructional videotape or hormone she’s ever seen or taken.

Felicity Huffman knows how to play a reluctant mother. As the exhausted mother of four, Lynette Scavo, on television’s "Desperate Housewives", Huffman exhibits her strengths as an actress by playing Lynette as a woman who relies on her instincts. She is protective and fierce while still sensitive and nurturing. While her television character’s hesitation comes from a lack of confidence in her abilities to embody one of life’s most natural roles, her TRANSAMERICA film persona holds back for mostly selfish reasons. She has not felt like herself her entire life. The look of disgust on her face when a doctor asks how she feels about her penis hits hard for how quick and harsh a reaction it is. Having a problem son to deal with, and eventually confront regarding his misconceived notions about his birth father, is a direct obstacle that she had not counted on. This is her initial fear but Bree is actually terrified that she has no nurturing capabilities just like her television counterpart. It is only by spending time with her son that she comes to learn that she has much wisdom to impart upon him, that she was not ruined entirely by her parents, or that she could stand to learn a thing or two from him as well.

The issue of control, having it in one’s life or over one’s self is a struggle for most, but can be even more of an arduous challenge for marginalized people, like a transsexual person. He or she not only needs to ingest numerous hormones in order be more like the person they feel they are inside, which is in complete contradiction to the body they’ve been given, but they then have to deal with the ignorance and judgment that is given to them each time they put on their armor and walk outside their door. TRANSAMERICA is a film about learning how to incorporate the person you’ve always known yourself to be with the person you so desperately want to become and about healing the relationships with the people you meet and touch along the winding road that gets you there.

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