Dir: Duncan Tucker (first feature film)
There is so, so much right with this movie. Sometimes, people with money also have talent and vision. So when William Macy executive produces an off beat, heartfelt and clearly inspired script for his wife to take on one dynamite role, you get artistic filmmaking as it is supposed to work. The machine did not spit this one out. A gem.
Transamerica reminds one of Alexander Payne, an About Schmidt take on gender identity. Felicity Huffman is a preoperative transsexual, a man who learns on the eve of her surgery that she had fathered a son years ago. The pronoun dissonance in that last sentence may stand in as the theme of the whole film. It is carefully thought out, nuanced and insightful. So nuanced, in fact, that what could easily have been a slam dunk and boring rejection of intolerance becomes a very complicated exploration of the panoply of difficult issues surrounding sexual identity and practice. Our lead is a bad person, really, stifled by years of self denial and societal contempt. Her son is himself a product of a confused and destructive sexual milieu. The various people encountered on the road themselves hold believable attitudes that challenge the audience's own understanding of tolerance and liberation. Each character is full portrait, an exciting amalgamation of intent and action.
Kevin Zegers pays the wayward son as it should be, with juvenile pain and teenage resistance. Never properly weaned, this man-child can both be worldly and hopelessly childish, a fascinating performance in a brilliant characterization. But of course the story is Huffman. Her performance shifts from the feminine pantomime of a man struggling to become something else to occasional relapses into heady masculinity when stress overwhelms her ability to concentrate on passing. The performance is spot on throughout, a revelation of what talent and freedom can accomplish together.
The story is surprisingly humorous and offbeat. The subject could easily have become maudlin or soapy, but the dry humor and cynicism about the world relax the tensions of the audience and invites them in. Even the confrontations with the unfeeling or bigoted or selfish are wry, eliciting shoulder shrugs and shaken heads more than anger. It is a perfect creative move, exploding the pallete of feelings that the film conveys.
Like the last movie I viewed, there is a sense of contrivance to the narrative. I would have liked some more attention to character motivation for their actions. But character motivation for their feelings is a home run, so this is only the smallest piece of criticism.
Even the soundtrack is great. Some grass, some gospel, even Old Crow Medicine Show. Tucker is listening to the same CDs I am. And finally a film has the correct take on hippies.
Transamerica surpasses the hype. You should see it for Huffman, but I think you will find that the entire film is inspired, a complete package that I am so thankful was able to find the light and blossom. Outstanding film.
P.S. Oh, and the Academy should be disbanded. Reese Witherspoon takes a southern drawl and magazine covers with babies and fancy gowns on the red carpet and robs a true work of art from recognition. Shame.