13 February 2006

TRANSAMERICA - A film by Duncan Tucker

Complex Metamorphosis of the Most Fundamental Sort
Excerpted from a review published: New York Times December 2, 2005

Felicity Huffman's performance in "Transamerica" persuasive would be an understatement, as well as somewhat misleading. Her character, Bree (short for Sabrina), is a pre-operative transsexual who lives in a modest bungalow in Los Angeles and in a condition she refers to as "stealth." In other words, though still technically male, Bree passes for a woman, though there is nothing very stealthy about her elaborate, almost theatrical displays of femininity. In her tasteful pink outfits and meticulously applied makeup, she presents an image of womanliness that harks back to an earlier era. Her voice soft and breathy, she avoids cursing and peppers her conversation with Latinate words and foreign phrases.

In this debut feature by Duncan Tucker, who wrote and directed it, "Transamerica" sets out to affirm Bree's dignity, to liberate her and others like her from any association with camp or freakishness. That the film succeeds without slipping too far into sentimentality or didacticism is in no small measure the result of Ms. Huffman's wit and grace. (She may also be the first film actor of either sex to do frontal nudity, in a single movie, as both.) Her work on "Desperate Housewives," for which she won an Emmy earlier this year, suggests a knack for gender parody, since that series is in essence a drag show that happens to star real women. The challenge Ms. Huffman faces here is more complicated: she must convey the layers of Bree's identity and the spaces between those layers. It is not just that the actress must play a man who is playing a woman - that much is a matter of technique (with some prosthetic assistance, to be sure) - but also that she must impersonate a performer in the midst of learning a complicated role. Her performance is a complex metamorphosis, and it is thrilling to watch.
A week before her gender-reassignment surgery, Bree, formerly and reluctantly known as Stanley, discovers that a long-ago relationship has produced a previously unknown son named Toby (Kevin Zegers), who is now a teenage street hustler living in New York. Told by her therapist (Elizabeth Peña) that this is a loose end that must be tied up, Bree flies East to help the boy, who has run away from home after his mother's suicide. Allowing him to think that she is a Christian missionary - her upright, churchly bearing makes it easy to believe - she decides to take him back to rural Kentucky, where his stepfather lives.

Mr. Tucker is a subtle and conscientious writer; he takes care to treat Bree as a person rather than a case study…. Ms. Huffman carries herself with such sensitivity and authority that you never doubt Bree for an instant.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link Malika. Just saw the trailer. Don't really know what to make of it. But I am really not expecting very much of an impact on me based on it.

    But then, I am the sort who is waiting for Superman Returns.....




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