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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.73%
Worth A Look50.98%
Average: 21.57%
Pretty Bad: 11.76%
Total Crap: 1.96%

6 reviews, 15 user ratings

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by Collin Souter

"A familiar journey worth taking"
4 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 41ST CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) The Road Movie is a pretty flexible genre. The success of a good Road Movie depends solely on the characters that inhabit it. The situations can be familiar and downright cliché, but if the two or three characters have the chemistry or tension to rise above it, then the whole journey can be smooth sailing in spite of itself. Transamerica has nothing new to offer the road movie genre in terms of style or plot twists, yet it ultimately feels fresh and, despite the tragic storyline, it exists without pretension. Of course, it also helps that the film is carried by two strong performances.

Felicity Huffman—who made the film before Desperate Housewives—plays Bree, a transgender on the verge of a complete sex change. She only needs one final operation before her transformation is complete. She lives in the slums of Los Angeles and makes her living waitressing and telemarketing from home. One day, she gets a phone call from a boy claiming to be her son. It slowly dawns on Bree that her one and only sexual encounter 17 years ago has finally caught up with her.

The boy, Toby (Kevin Zegers), has been arrested for shoplifting a frog and for holding drugs. At first, Bree ignores the situation, but her therapist (Elizabeth Pena) insists that Bree confront her past before going ahead with the operation. Bree travels to New York to bail Toby out, but rather than tell Toby the truth, Bree pretends to be a Christian missionary out to reform poor Toby. We know that eventually Bree will tell Toby the truth, but when?

The film has all the common elements for a road movie: the fights, the detours involving the characters’ past, the losing of the car and money, sleeping outdoors and, of course, the bond that eventually develops, crumbles and mends. The compelling premise is what keeps the movie feeling somewhat new. Writer-director Duncan Tucker also doesn’t shy away from exploring the situation on a more tragic level. Toby is a gay hustler who is not shy about his exploits and even comes on to Bree early on in their journey together.

Most people when talking about this movie will be talking about Felicity Huffman’s extraordinary performance. The casting of a woman in this role rather than a man is a curious choice on its own. Tucker has said that he wanted a woman because it would help depict this character closer to the end of a long journey and moving forward than one in a state of awkwardness and confusion. Huffman disappears into the role and adopts a low-octave voice that sounds neither too manly nor too feminine. She portrays Bree as a vulnerable, fiercely independent and charming character rather than a one-note caricature that could have easily dominated the movie. Credit should also go to Kevin Zegers, who hits all the right notes and plays Toby with a street-smart sensibility, but also with the right amount of youthful naiveté.

This is Tucker’s first feature-length film and it’s clear that he has more interest in his actors than in making a name for himself. The movie is shot with mostly hand-held cameras and is never intrusive or over-stylized. He lets his actors breathe and inhabit the scenery on their own terms. Though the movie veers into sitcom-level humor towards the end when Bree confronts her own family, Tucker’s soft approach to the material remains appropriate without once teetering on melodrama.

It’s a good start for all involved. Though Huffman already has a high-profile claim to fame, this performance represents a startling career move that will no doubt benefit everyone (Tucker, Huffman, the Weinsteins) come award season. Like the Road Movie genre, the Indie Film Underdog story has been told several times, but when the movie works on its own terms, as this one does, the story is worth telling again anyway.

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originally posted: 10/14/05 03:24:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/09/08 Totir Alexandru Average drama, a little to harsh in some points, like very explicit content. 3 stars
1/04/08 tmcmistress exploitative and pointless. Makes a mockery of transgender women... 1 stars
12/29/06 Mockingbird Love it all the more for not being a tragic transgender tale, just human road movie. 5 stars
12/23/06 Phil M. Aficionado The more you think about it, the more "average" it becomes except for Huffman's performance 3 stars
10/03/06 Tmcm not bad, but it would be nice to see an actual transgender person PLAY a transgender person 4 stars
9/18/06 Nicky A sweet movie! I want to see more work of Felicity Huffman in the future! She's got it! 5 stars
9/13/06 Edward Connell An effective intrigueing movie aced for success 5 stars
8/07/06 Ryan_A Huffman's performance saves it. 3 stars
7/27/06 Lisa Good portrayal by Felicity but story very slow. 3 stars
2/25/06 jcjss wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, so funny and real, gees 5 stars
12/12/05 Joan Great movie. Felicity nails the character of a MtoF person. She has studied us well 4 stars
10/20/05 Donny B. Nothing special here except the sexual themes of the characters...ho-hum 3 stars
10/17/05 Glenda Sharp Wry humor, outstanding acting, engaging plot twist to the transformational road movie 5 stars
9/17/05 amanda i loved it so much - amazing! touching! riveting! 5 stars
4/26/05 Philip Great performance, well done, don't miss 5 stars
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  02-Dec-2005 (R)
  DVD: 23-May-2006



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