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2006-07-12 16:59


Sabrina "Bree" Osbourne is about to undergo what "she" thinks will be the most difficult journey of her life. A genetic male, Bree has been living "stealth" as a woman for over a year. Now she has saved enough money for the final sex-change operation, all she needs is the written approval of her therapist to go ahead. But when Toby (Kevin Zegers), a son she never knew she had, gets himself into jail at the other end of the country, Bree's therapist forces her to confront the problem before she will agree to the operation. Bree flies to New York and, posing as a missionary, bails Toby out of jail, hoping that will be the end of it. But Toby is planning to hitchhike to California to find his father, and a suddenly motherly Bree feels compelled to chaperone him across the country. So Bree and Toby set out across America on what will become a journey of self-discovery for both of them.


At first glance Transamerica sounds like it will follow one of two movie conventions. The most obvious template is a confrontational, issue-driven independent snorer that gets in people's faces about a taboo subject. The second convention is a broad sex comedy - a spin on Some Like It Hot for the worldly-wise 21st century viewer.

Thankfully Transamerica follows neither of these well-worn paths. Instead it makes its own way, stepping deftly between drama and humour in a dance that feels so authentic and honest that it frequently cuts right to the bone. There's no doubt it pays homage to well-established genres like the road movie, but its anti-sentimental approach is so unusual in American film that Transamerica never feels anything but fresh.

In such a small-scale, character driven project, success hinges on two things - a great screenplay (with excellent dialogue) and superb performances. Writer / director Duncan Tucker's screenplay is a strong and finely judged piece of work, from its daring concept to its subtle execution. Though it has some weak spots (an impromptu visit to Bree's parents' house nearly teeters into melodrama), it punches well above its weight, particularly considering it is Tucker's feature film debut. In the end though, it's the performances that really make the difference in Transamerica.

Felicity Huffman's portrayal of a male-to-female transsexual (both pre and post operative) is nothing short of incredible. She has built this character from the ground up with meticulous care. Watched closely you realise that every gesture, every posture, every line has been agonised over. In a lesser actress this would come across as stiff or forced, but Huffman blends the ticks and quirks into a faultless (and outwardly effortless) replica of a real human being. This kind of craft is frequently mistaken for the much-vaunted "method", but to pass Huffman off as a "method actress" is to miss how cerebral and deliberate her approach to this role is.

Not that Huffman's performance is in any way cold or calculating. She never once allows the details of the character to overwhelm the broad emotional strokes. It's just that, thanks to her fine intellectual control over the role, she can take the character to places that merely immersing herself in the emotional aspects of the part would not. It's this control that allows Bree to be awkward, endearing, kind, cowardly, angry, overwhelmed and a hundred other things, without ever once seeming to be anything other than a real person. In the end this control is so powerful and so invisible that you frequently need to remind yourself that Bree is, in fact, being played by a woman and is not a transsexual man under her clothes.

Given the brilliance of Huffman's performance, you might expect a young actor like Kevin Zegers (remember him in Air Bud?) to be utterly outclassed. Instead Zegers rises to the challenge, matching Huffman beat for beat. His character, Toby, is essentially a wild and wayward foil for the prissy and conservative Bree, but he never allows his performance to slip into caricature.

Transamerica is by no means a perfect film. From a purely technical perspective its low budget shows in uneven visuals and pedestrian scene making. Its script, while strong, has some flat spots. But all of these problems are eclipsed by the film's warmth, its bravery and, above all, its incredible honesty.

- Alistair Fairweather

It's a mystery why Felicity Huffman didn't win the Oscar for her role in Transamerica. Her virtuoso performance in this difficult role makes the film an unforgettable experience.

Nikki 2006/03/17 9:00 AM
TransAmerica Well done, as near as it will ever be. Perhaps a real TS m2f would have brought greater reality to the ill or non-informed audience. Yes, Transgender is real, I am a living proof of it. Lunch at Plutos
Amanda 2006/03/17 10:18 AM
Original and entertaining All the 'issues' aside, at the heart of this movie is the relationship between Bree and Toby. It is real, funny and endearing. Even if unusual movies are not your thing, see this one - it's terrific. Brokeback Mountain
Gerson 2006/03/17 10:23 AM
Transamerica Uplifted and mostly aware of how much people have to deal with ignorance. Yes
IanSmith 2006/03/17 7:09 PM
Honesty at it's best Hats off to producer for taking such an incredable gamble making such a movie during such times.....beautifully scripted and excecuted... yes,yes,yes
Shirley Bell 2006/03/25 8:37 AM
Transamerica Outstanding performance by Felicity Huffman. The movie was not without sadness, because it presented a social dilemma experienced by a hidden element of society, but ultimately it was uplifting and memorable.
paul 2006/12/29 2:01 PM
Magnificent One need not ask for more with this movie - delightful and uplifting
leah 2007/04/20 4:54 AM
transamerica i'm a christan im having a KEVIN ZEGERS cruch right now but the reason i can't stop thinking about him is thinking about him being a christan so if u r out there please no god luvs u and i luv u ;) ~leah~
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