Article Title:Transamerica - Heartwarming and uplifting
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:28th April 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1206
Text:TRANSAMERICA Dir: Duncan Tucker USA / 2005 / 35mm / 103 mins Opens in NZ: Thursday May 4, 2006 Wow – an American film about a transsexual that doesn't end in rape, senseless beatings and murder. Transamerica is a watershed film that humanises its lead character without once pulling its punches or sanitising its content for the benefit of priggish audiences. Sadly, this may account for its relative lack of success compared to the much-lauded Brokeback Mountain, which largely shied away from male/male affection and, incredibly for a story about a romance between two men, eschewed full frontal nudity for its actors in favour of tit shots of the wives. Transamerica is not that film, as many assumed it would be with the decision to cast a woman, Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame, in the lead role of MTF pre-op transsexual Bree. We needn't have worried. On the explicit content front, Bree sports a digitally-added set of genitals at several key points, including a penis that urinates (don't worry, it's part of the plot, not a gratuitous piss fetish sequence). Huffman has put together a likeable, strong but fragile character in Bree, as well as convincingly portraying a man in the final stages of gender transition. Although there are many funny moments, Bree is not played for laughs or tongue-clicking sympathy as previous “she-male” characters in American films have been. And yet, Transamerica is still a very American film, sitting neatly on the shelf beside other pictures of the "road movie" genre. As she travels from New York to LA with her wayward son Toby (who doesn't know she's his father) it's a journey of discovery as well as a physical journey. All the road movie conventions are followed of course, including the loss of transport at an inopportune moment and the prickly relationship that turns to love. But these conventions are followed with characters that we have not seen on screen before. Bree is grappling with her own internalised transphobia, desperate to pass as a "real woman" and being ashamed of other transsexuals. Her son Toby has worked the streets as a male hustler, a profession he seems to enjoy, and dreams of moving to Hollywood so he can work in the movies – gay porn movies, that is. The whole film seems to have been literally shot through a pink filter, meaning the vast American landscapes have rarely looked so lush, inviting, and devoid of loneliness. We have been conditioned to expect horrible things happening to glbt characters in these environments for so long that, on initial viewing, you're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It doesn't. The tranny-bashing nasties are well locked away for this one. Transamerica is as heartwarming and uplifting as the specially-composed Dolly Parton number that graces the closing credits. Sadly this and Felicity Huffman's performance were overlooked in the Oscar stakes, but this is not a picture which should be overlooked by audiences. It's an all-too-rare slice of transgender life. Chris Banks - 28th April 2006    
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