Sometimes a strong performance can redeem an otherwise dodgy film to such an extent that it winds up still being worth watching despite its numerous and obvious flaws. For a while, it seems as if “Transamerica” is going to be one of those films–it is pretty clunky both in terms of narrative and visual storytelling but contains a fairly impressive central performance from Felicity Huffman. Unfortunately, even her considerable efforts are unable to pull this one out of the bag.In the film, she plays Bree, a pre-op transsexual who, on the eve of the final operation that will make her a woman once and for all, discovers that s/he fathered a son, Toby (Kevin Zagers), who is now a runaway hustler currently languishing in jail in New York. Advised by her therapist to deal with this as a prerequisite for the operation, Bree goes off to bail him out, not revealing the truth about who she really is. Inevitably, the two set off on a fairly unlikely cross-country road trip in which dark secrets revealed, obstacles overcome, tearful reconciliations and conclusive proof that Burt Young is indeed still alive.
For all of the talk about the film somehow being transgressive because of its central character, “Transamerica” is unlikely to raise the hackles of even the most conservative of audiences. Dramatically inert and sloppily filmed by debuting writer-director Duncan Tucker, this is basically a cable movie blown up for the big screen and, despite the novelty of the main character, winds up being the same tale of people coming to terms with things that you have seen a million times before. (The only curve ball comes from the character of Bree’s father, who is played by Young and comes off as surprisingly accepting–far more so than shrilly unpleasant mom Fionnula Flanagan). A bigger problem is that the son is such a grimy and unpleasant little jerk–especially as played by Zagers as if he was a refugee from a Larry Clark film–that you begin to resent being trapped with him for so long.The best thing about “Transamerica”–the only reason that anyone is even talking about it at this point–is Felicity Huffman, who is quite good in a fairly risky role that will hopefully remind audiences that she can do more than play a screechy desperate housewife. However, even her considerable efforts can’t prevent the film from coming off as kind of a drag.
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