Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Movie Report: Transamerica

I was quite happy that Reese Witherspoon won the Academy award for Best Actress for her performance in Walk The Line, until last weekend when I saw Felicity Huffman's performance in Transamerica. As good as Witherspoon was in her depiction of June Carter, it paled in comparison to Huffman's. The outrage of this year's Oscars is not that Brokeback Mountain failed to win the Best Picture Award, but that Huffman failed to win the Best Actress Award.

Huffman, better known for her depiction of Lynette Scavo in the trashy television series, Desperate Housewives, is amazing playing a man trying to be transformed into a woman. Before seeing the movie, I wondered why they didn't have a man play the role of Bree Osbourne. After seeing it, I am convinced that there is no one, male, female, or transgendered, who could have done it better.

Glamorous as a Desperate Housewife, Huffman is made up to look somewhat masculine (in a feminine sort of way) in Transamerica. She manages to carry herself as a man desperately wanting to be a woman might -- a little awkward; a little overly-feminine; but a disguise so convincing that only an observant six-year-old girl asks the question, "Are you a man?"

"Transgendered" persons, according to Wikkipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, are persons assigned a gender, usually at birth, who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves. They are not homosexuals and they are not transvestites. They are persons who think of themselves as of one sex but have genitalia of the opposite sex.

Bree, who started out life as "Stanley," is a waitress in LA, one week away from vaginoplasty, which will do such a good job of turning her penis into a vagina that even a gynecologist will not be able to detect her history (for more medical information than you will ever want to know, including very graphic photographs, see this University of Michigan website). Her life is turned upside down when she receives a phone call from a juvenile jail in New York City from a 17-year-old homosexual hustler, claiming to be her son. Bree tells him that Stanley has died and is prepared to accept no responsibility for the son she never knew she had until she is forced by her therapist, whose signature she needs in order to have the vaginoplasty, to face up to her past as a male.

Bree meets her son in New York City, posing as a religious worker, and then agrees to drive him cross country to Los Angeles where he dreams of starring in homosexual pornographic movies. The trip across the continental United States in a rattletrap of a car by two people who start out disliking and then come to respect each other has become a cliche in American movies. In this instance, there is a twist to the usual outcome in that when the son figures out that the woman giving him the ride is not a church lady, but a man, and eventually it is revealed that the man is his father, he becomes angry with the deception and disappears for a long time, until the inevitable happy ending.

There are holes in the plot, but this is an interesting movie; one that kept me awake and kept me smiling or laughing at many points, particularly when Bree and her son, wind up at the home of her parents, who are torn between horror at the Bree that Stanley has become and the congenital urge to be doting grandparents.

This movie is not for the faint of heart. There are glimpses of full frontal nudity and depictions of gay sex at least as explicit as in Brokeback Mountain. Nevertheless, this is not a pornographic movie. Like the movie I reported on a few posts ago, Mrs. Henderson Presents, the body parts that are usually covered up in our society are not shown in an erotic manner in Transamerica.

I would probably have given the movie a three star rating had it not been for Huffman's amazing performance, which pulls it up to four stars.

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