'Transamerica' is wild and wonderful

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Transamerica is a strange and wonderful film about becoming one’s true self, whatever that may entail. The film centres on a man-to-woman transsexual named Bree who is busy adjusting to life as a female and saving all her money for sexual reassignment surgery — the surgery that will transform his penis into a vagina. Hope that’s not too much information.

Out of the blue, Bree gets a phone call that changes everything. It turns out she has a son, a teenage boy she fathered during college, when she still lived as a man.

Bree is horrified to discover that she has a child and further horrified to discover that the boy’s in jail and likely working as a male prostitute. Bree would ignore the whole situation, but her shrink says she can’t have that sexual reassignment surgery until she has faced up to the past.

And so Bree goes to get the boy, pretending she’s from a Christian organization. The boy, Toby, wants to go to the west coast to be in the movies. Bree agrees to drive him there, but she has a hidden agenda — to leave Toby with his stepfather.

When that doesn’t work out, they continue driving to California, talking, getting to know each other and camping out. And camping it up, for that matter.

Transamerica is often funny and often tragic, and, as when Bree is robbed of her hormones, it’s sometimes both at once.

Once Bree and Toby get to California, Bree is forced to go home to face the family she’d hoped never to see again. On their side, her parents are none too pleased to see their son and heir transformed into a woman. And what will happen if Toby finds out that Bree is actually his father?

The family dynamic is under the microscope.

Transamerica is an extraordinary little film in many ways and all because of the performances.

A half-hour into the movie, we caught ourselves thinking that despite the wig and makeup and the dress, it was still painfully obvious that Bree was really a man; then we had to remind ourselves that the ‘man’ playing Bree is Felicity Huffman.

Got that? Huffman, best known for her TV role in Desperate Housewives, here plays a man who is on the way to becoming a woman, a role within a role within a role that’s staggering to even think about. It’s because of Huffman that the movie has already attracted Golden Globe nominations, and Oscar recognition is expected. The performances are such that you’ll quickly forget who’s who and what’s what, gender-wise; human dignity is the story here.

BOTTOM LINE

Transamerica is the sort of film that sounds like a trite TV thingy and turns out to be a tiny perfect jewel of a movie. Check out this story about identity, family and perception so you’ll know what all the hubbub is about on Oscar night.


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