Jun 14, 2013

[Movies] Transamerica (2005)

In most countries, June is often celebrated as Pride Month - a time to celebrate LGBT culture and renew the pledge to continue the fight for LGBT rights. In line with this, I'm adding focus to my Friday movie reivews for this month by trying to focus more on big box office movies that included LGBT themes.

And so we get to this week's movie - Transamerica.

"This is the voice I want to use" - a line that remains almost burned into my memory. And in many ways, it sort of helped define the central theme of this movie and a lot of the inevitable arguments around it.

And among the various groups that make up the LGBT community, the transgender / transsexual segment has always been a more misunderstood than most. And thus this movie represented a major achievement by trying to put us in the shoes of a pre-op transsexual.


Synopsis: Transamerica is a 2005 LGBT comedy drama movie directed by Duncan Tucker, who also co-wrote the screenplay together with William H. Macy. The movie was nominated for several awards such as an Academy Award for Best Actress for Felicity Huffman and won quite a few including the Independent Spirit Awards Best First Screenplay for Duncan Tucker and Male Revelation for Kevin Zegers at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

Our protagonist is one Sabrina "Bree" Osborne (Felcity Huffman), who is one week away from her vaginoplasty to complete her transition to fully becoming a woman. But a bit of a hitch comes along in the form of a surprise phone call from one 17 year old Toby Wilkins (Kevin Zegers), who is in jail in New York City and is looking for his birth father, Stanley Schupak. Of course Bree also happens to be Stanley.

Bree had no idea that she had fathered a son and given her impending surgery, she has no plans of being reminded of her very male past. But her therapist (Elizabeth Peña) refuses to sign off on her operation until she faces her past and thus meets her son. This leads to a cross-country journey from Los Angeles to New York so Bree can bail Toby out of jail - but she does so under the guise of supposedly being a Christian missionary. Thus Bree's plan is to drive across America together with Toby and possibly leave him with his stepfather along the way.

The movie is both an LGBT story and a classic America-style story. There are few story concepts as seemingly traditional as the cross-country journey - an opportunity to feature a lot of the diversity of the various states and what each has to offer. And to marry this with the transsexual story of self-discovery was an interesting way to stress how such LGBT stories are part of American culture whether people realize it or not.

Now admittedly I had somewhat mixed feelings about the need for a female actress to portray the role of a pre-op transsexual. But at the same time, I recognize the power that any big name actress can bring to a movie plus the fact that Felicty Huffman did a tremendous job in her performance. Together with the make-up team that helped supplement her features to make them more masculine and we had a woman who actually did a great job portraying a man wanting to become a woman.

Kevin Zegers was also a rather impressive find and I can see why he had received a few nominations and awards of his own. More than just  being a disgruntled teenager rebelling against his lot in life, the role of Toby was given a lot of complexity and that demanded quite a lot out of the young actor. And the manner in which he address the diverse emotions and unique circumstances was certainly impressive.

The movie is funny and yet serious all at the same time - on the whole a most impressive movie indeed. I guess I must admit that I was surprised at how much I had enjoyed this movie. It's a great piece and a great story with just the right talent to deliver that message very well indeed.

Transamerica certainyl marks an important point in LGBT cinema and is a film that certainly helped bring greater awareness to transsexual concerns to a wider audience. Thus I'm happy to rate this movie as 5 little "challenges" that Bree faces on the trip out of a possible 5.


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