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Directed by Duncan Tucker.
Written by Duncan Tucker.
Starring Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Graham Greene and Elizabeth Peña.
Release Year:  2005

Review Date:  1/25/06


Certainly all of the pub surrounding the transsexual road drama "Transamerica" is due to the performance of TV star Felicity Huffman...but, there's a movie around that performance, and it turns out to be a good one.

Huffman stars as Stanley, a guy that has slowly gone from unhappy male to an on-the-verge transsexual when we meet him in the film's initial stages; he has changed his name from Stanley to "Bree" and is for all intents and purposes living as a female.  Following a long process involving making an appointment for a sex change operation and having a couple of therapists sign off on the operation, Bree's main psychologist (Elizabeth Peña, as timeless a beauty as there is) forces Bree to address a new problem that arises when we meet him:  Bree has recently received a call from someone that claims to be his son from a previous relationship, someone that is currently in prison in New York and needs to be bailed out...and, as it has affected Bree's clarity in making a good decision when it comes to sex change surgery, his psych asks him to clear this up before having the operation.

What follows, as Bree shows up at the prison where this son (Toby, played by Kevin Zegers) is being held, is a mix of comedy, road flick, and drama, most of which work while we get to explore not only the Bree/Toby relationship but also just how difficult it might be to present someone with a life change so drastic that it completely changes your perspective of your past life.  Writer/director Duncan Tucker does an excellent job early on of painting the picture of life's little difficulties when it comes to being a transsexual, without taking sides on whether it might be "good" or "bad" to do that; I also loved the way we get to know Bree/Stanley without really getting a handle on whether or not he likes men or women as future partners; Bree hates his own genitalia, but does he hate genitalia in general?  Bree wonders how his breasts look thanks to his hormone pills, but we don't get a feel for whether or not he thinks it's important for women, men or both to even give a shit.

As advertised, the Huffman performance is great, and of course, it certainly is unique when compared against the other top performances of 2005.  Certainly, it is an Oscar-worthy performance, and I'll be excited to see what other roles are nominated to see who she will be up against.  The bit parts are a mixed bag; Zegers was engaging as Toby, but by the time we meet Bree/Stanley's family (played by Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young and Carrie Preston), they are so over the top that they almost wipe out the strong acting from the film's first hour.  Peña is great but appears in only limited amounts; Graham Greene (aka, the only American Indian actor allowed to show up in films these days) shows up briefly in a small, vaguely poetic role as the lost soul that seems to have found a soulmate, if only for one night over cervezas and a big guitar.

Although I did like the ending, getting to that final point in "Transamerica" was not that great, mostly due to the whole family affair.  And, occasionally I didn't enjoy the one-note interactions between Bree/Stanley and Toby, not because they didn't seem realistic or weren't well acted, I just felt that they did not always have the effect that I think director Tucker was looking for.  A little soulless, maybe...maybe they just felt repetitive.  I don't know, I just know that during some of the in-between-road-stop scenes, the montages were not that well put together.

But, for the Huffman performance alone and some good laughs along the way, "Transamerica" is worth checking out.  I'm sure this will expand to more theaters once the Oscar nominations are announced next Tuesday.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09