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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Felicity Huffman deserves the Oscar she's going to get, but I was disappointed by the story of Transamerica. If you haven't seen it, the movie's about Bree, a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual who's days away from her operation when she gets a call from a young man claiming to be her son. He's a hustler in New York. Her therapist insists she straighten that situation out before her "outie" can be turned into an "innie," so she picks him up in New York, claiming to be a church worker, and thereup begins one of those all-across-America road trips the movies love so well.


At first glance, the script is just sloppily written. Her son is a male prostitute who repeatedly declares he does not want to be re-united with his stepfather. Somehow it does not occur to Bree what everyone else in the audience can see is coming, that his father was abusive. Perhaps a real church lady (or The Church Lady) might miss that, but not a transsexual who has other friends in the community. Other go-to's are less painful but just as sloppy. Bree parks the car near a desert lake, and watches her son and a hitchhiker go skinny dipping -- and lets the hitchhiker swipe the car. Like anyone who lives in LA ever leaves the keys in the ignition?


But the real shame of the script is how little of an individual human being Bree is. While Huffman's performance is beautifully nuanced, the character is barely more than I described her above. She exists in a vacuum. She has no friends beyond her therapist (though miraculously she has a passel of TS friends in Texas). She is a parody of womanhood -- excessively proper speech, flouncy hand gestures and all -- but we see almost nothing of the person Sidney Schupak was. One bright shining moment shows what could have been: when they're driving across the desert, she talks about how it all used to be a great inland sea (Tethys, I guess). Though we never get a sense of what that means to her, at least it's something that wouldn't occur to someone else to say. At least that individualizes her a tiny amount.

Essentially she's a creepy loner trying to be something she's not. You could not possibly mistake her for a woman. Real women laugh, cry, and talk constantly. She's buttoned all the way up and says as little as she can. I bet she doesn't even snore.

I hope real transgendered people have more fun than that -- and ironically there are other transgendered people in the movie, the Texas gang, who seem quite human and happy with themselves.

It's not Huffman's fault, it's the script's, but compare Bree to Terence Stamp's Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: not the happiest transexxual in the world, but a human being with friends, a dead lover, a sense of humor, a sense of what's not funny, and the ability to kick a guy in the nuts to save a friend's life.

Huffman may be a brave actress for putting on a prosthetic chin and Adam's apple, and scariest of all, looking ugly. But Transamerica is hardly a brave movie. Bree doesn't even kiss anyone. The movie I'd love to see about a transgendered person is what happens when you go from being a gay man to a woman? Bree lives in one of the most gay/lesbian/transgendered cities in the world, though for some reason she's made the inexplicable decision to live in a Mexican neighborhood instead than West Hollywood where people would accept her for what she is. How about a transsexual who lives in Boystown, has tons of gay friends, but after going under the knife suddenly finds herself at odds with the community she's had. She doesn't want to be a transsexual -- she wants to be a woman. A straight woman. But to really be a straight woman she can't really be in the gay community.

Now that would be a brave movie.


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