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Transamerica: A Transgender Road Trip

For many people the subject of transgender and male prostitutes conjures up images of crazed she-males ripping off their wigs and trying to shove them down each other’s throats on The Jerry Springer Show. What most people do not think about is that a transgendered person can also be Uncle Elmer or cousin Sophie or the mailman or the next-door neighbor. People don’t seem to grasp the concept that a transgendered person is usually someone with a family. Transamerica takes gender identity out of the closet and deposits it right in our own living room.

Felicity Huffman plays Stanley Schupach a lonely man who after three years is about to undergo the final stage of sex reassignment surgery to become a woman. “Bree” she says is what all of her friends call her, but Bree is a lonely, isolated, friendless soul who ekes out a living as a dishwasher in the hot kitchen of a crappy Mexican food restaurant and as a part time home based telemarketer. Bree stands in her bedroom trying to gauge her feminized body and worries if she can “pass” as a real woman. It is this lack of confidence that keeps her prison in her small house.

Bree’s only real contact with the outside world; the only person she can really talk to is her therapist, Margaret. Yet even this holds no excitement or purpose for Bree. The conversations between them consist of banal trivialities such as sales quotas and mail received. When Bree receives the call informing her that a lone sexual encounter eighteen years ago has produced a child, Margaret tells Bree that she must make the trip to New York to see him. Her son, Toby is an intelligent, yet immature boy who is a drug user and male prostitute holed up in a New York City jail. Toby ran away from home after his mother died and left him in the care of his uncaring stepfather.

This is one of the few places where I have fault with this movie. Transamerica’s writer/director, Duncan Tucker has Kevin Zegers, who plays Toby, dialogue that makes him sound like a reject from a road company of “West Side Story”, which is a shame because the movie is peppered with some otherwise clever dialogue.

Dr. Spikowsky: How do you feel about your penis?
Bree Osbourne: It disgusts me. I don’t even like looking at it.
Dr. Spikowsky: And how about your friends?
Bree Osbourne: They don’t like it either.

Bree, pretending to be a missionary, eventually takes Toby back home to his stepfather’s house and after a violent episode there, hauls him back to her own place in L.A. Within the mixture of lies and half-truths that they tell each other runs a vein of truth. It is this truth and sense of shared pathos in their lonely and unloved lives that hold them together when the lies start to unravel.

This film is as much about family as it is about loneliness. Many of us forget that sometimes the two go hand in hand. This is seen in a dialogue between Bree and Toby:

Toby: Your parent’s house is a lot nicer.
Bree Osbourne: My parent’s house comes with my parents.

After seeing this movie you can’t help but admire Bree. She is much stronger than even she believes herself to be. In one scene in the car on the way to L.A., she admonishes Toby for putting his feet up on the dashboard. Her own brand of femininity and maternal instincts take over and show us that given another set of circumstances Bree should have had nothing to worry about.

In Transamerica, Felicity Huffman gives the performance of her career thus far. It is at once edgy, humorous and soul stirring. Brilliant Fionnula Flanagan leads the supporting cast. While Fionnula’ s part may seem easy to some as the nagging and annoying mother who only “Wants the best for her child”, she hits the nail on the head and gives a stellar performance. Elizabeth Pena as Margaret, Bree’s demanding and supportive therapist is wonderful and a joy to watch. Kevin Zegers as Toby has the ability to rise above his dialogue and turn in a smooth performance. Felicity Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, produced the film.

While the film is nowhere near a great movie, it is quite good and for Tucker’s first time effort, it shows promise that many more wonderful things will be coming out of this talented newcomer.

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