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Gender explored in successful ‘Transamerica’

Marty Schroeder | Thursday, February 8, 2007

Although it may be a mainstream film that holds both dramatic tension and an accurate portrayal in high regard, “Transamerica” is an effective picture that brings pain and joy to viewers through the eyes of a transsexual woman named Bree.

Bree (a marvelous Felicity Huffman, who was nominated for an Oscar for this role) is about to have sexual reassignment surgery when she discovers she has a son living on the streets of New York – the result of a one-night stand when she was still a man. In order to get approval for her surgery from her therapist, Bree travels to New York to meet her son Toby (Kevin Zegers). They then begin a cross-country road trip from New York back to Los Angeles where they discover that not all of the preconceptions they had about each other were true.

The script by Duncan Tucker is clever and funny while still able to capture the spirit of Bree. Her character travels through emotions as she travels across the country, and this film is as much about family as it is about trust – trust not only in others but also in one’s self.

Felicity Huffman shines as Bree, Kevin Zegers is outstandingly edgy as Toby and Graham Greene is gentle and kind as the rancher Calvin Many Goats, who falls for Bree and is basically the only character in the film who treats Bree as the woman she wants to be.

Many other minor characters make colorful appearances, such as Bree’s parents whom Bree meets in a last ditch effort for help. Neither her mother or father can forgive Bree, whom they call their son, and Fionulla Flanagan is wonderfully comic, camp and tragic as the parent who can’t let go of the past.

Aside from the acting, the costumes and cinematography are excellent and the film won the award for Excellence in Costume Design – Contemporary from the Costume Designers Guild. Huffman’s costumes are those of a woman worried about appearing feminine and Flanagan’s are horribly campy while suiting the character perfectly. The travel across America is also beautifully well shot and the vastness of the United States is spectacularly viewed in this film. New York, Kentucky and the Southwest are all present in this film as well as the denizens – some kind, others not – who inhabit them.

Overall, this film is moving not because it tells the pain of someone so the audience can walk out of the theater and feel they have done something humanitarian. Of course, some people responded that way. However, if a different frame of mind is brought into this film, it can be very rewarding not only as a piece of excellent cinema but as a film that allows us to examine who we are and change – change not only to be more tolerant or accepting but change ourselves into what we really are.

This film will be showing as part of the film series entitled “Qlassics: Reimagining Sexuality and the Self in Recent American Cinema.” It will be screened at 10 p.m. this Saturday in the Browning Cinema in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. This is a free event, but tickets must be picked up at the DPAC Box Office.