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The delightfully off-centered Transamerica is one those juicy little character pieces that allows Felicity Huffman to turn in an unbelievably gutsy, Oscar-worthy performance.



Transamerica is basically a buddy/road flick. The "buddies" in question are a preoperative male-to-female transsexual named Bree (Huffman), who is one step away from total womanhood, and Toby (Kevin Zegers), the teenage son she unknowingly fathered. The "road" is what they take after Bree finds out about Toby, bails the petulant kid out of jail, and drives him cross-country to Los Angeles. Bree just wants to drop Toby off somewhere, forget about him and make it in time for her final surgery. But of course, along the way, with one adventure after another, she gets to know her son--a guy whose had a pretty rough upbringing and has no idea Bree is his dad. Soon Bree is looking fondly at Toby, thinking maybe she can make this crazy situation work.


Wow. Most people know Huffman for her Emmy-winning turn as one of the more desperate of TV's Desperate Housewives. But in no way are you prepared for the fearless performance the actress gives as the prim and proper Bree, formerly the gender-challenged Stanley. Of course, the physical attributes--the coarsening of her features, the deepening of her voice--immediately strike you. I mean, Huffman throws any vanity right out the window. But you soon realize that's all superficial. It's how Huffman digs in and transforms herself into this man--who desperately wants to be a upstanding lady--that is simply astounding. Oscar will definitely come knocking. Zegers (Wrong Turn) also does a nice job as the troubled youth, who blossoms under Bree's watchful eye--but thankfully not in a sugarcoated way.


Transamerica sprung from first-time director/writer Duncan Tucker's own friendship with a transgendered woman, but he emphatically says the film isn't about transsexuals. He told Entertainment Weekly, "It's about parenting. It's about growing up." Well, yes, that's mostly true, but the whole transsexual aspect is still there. The film is a character study after all--with one of those characters close to swapping genders, and it's incredibly fascinating. What Tucker also does right is frame the story within the road trip milieu. Of course, road trips can also take too long, with endless shots of wide open spaces. But putting two very different people together in a car and watching them make their way always lends itself to moments rife with conflict and, we hope, resolution.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.