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Felicity Huffman is absolutely brilliant as a pre-op male to female transsexual forced to take a cross-country road trip with the son she never knew she had in the smart, touching dramedy, “Transamerica.”
A film that’s all about family, "Transamerica" deftly addresses a delicate topic without ever digressing into campiness or making a parody out of the film’s subject matter.
Writer/director Duncan Tucker sets the bar incredibly high with this his feature film debut. Tucker’s “Transamerica” takes the so-called normal dynamics of a family and adds a few delicious twists. A father receives a phone call informing him his son’s in a New York jail. Up until the phone call, the man had no idea he fathered a child.
That’s a twist we’ve seen before however in “Transamerica,” the long-lost dad is a transgender woman now named Bree who’s days away from having the genital operation which will in essence be the final step in the long process of becoming a woman.
Bree knows the only sexual dalliance she had in her life as a male was a misguided fling in college, and this teenage boy must be the result of that brief relationship. But that knowledge does nothing to settle her already frazzled nerves.
Locked up in NY, Toby (Kevin Zegers) has no idea his dad is a transsexual living in stealth mode, meaning no one outside of a couple of doctors know the person he thinks is his dad is not biologically a woman. Unsure of what to do, Bree confides in her therapist who in turn refuses to sign off on Bree’s surgery until she deals with the situation.
Arriving in New York from LA, Bree introduces herself to Toby as a church woman whose mission it is to help him get straightened out. Toby’s basically a good kid, he’s just had a hard life and has turned to hustling on the streets as well as doing drugs to get by. The two are about as unlikely a pair of traveling companions as could be dreamed up. As they journey from the East Coast to the West, their relationship goes from antagonistic to civil to something much deeper.
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With the meaty role of Bree in “Transamerica,” Huffman gets the opportunity to spread her wings and soar. Huffman alters her voice, her walk, the way she carries herself, and with the assistance of some heavy duty makeup, gets lost inside this character. Huffman delivers a career-defining performance for which she’s earned nothing but praise.
Former “Air Bud” star Kevin Zegers transitions from kid roles to young adult with this performance. While all the attention has been focused on Huffman, Zegers’ no less outstanding. Playing a street hustler who wants to work in the adult film industry – or a pet store – Zegers is the key to making “Transamerica” work. One false move by Zegers as Toby and the story would have a ‘we’re winking at you’ feel. It doesn’t thanks to solid support from Zegers.
Delivering strong performances in supporting roles are Fionnula Flanagan as Bree’s high-strung mother, Burt Young as her more understanding father, and Graham Greene as a man who gives the traveling companions a lift when their car is stolen and who becomes infatuated with Bree - without knowing her history.
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“Transamerica” caught me by surprise in a good way. At first unsure about the lead role being played by a female, I came to understand why the character of Bree needed to be played by a woman.
This is a surprisingly heartwarming movie and one of those rare films that leaves you wanting more. Where do Bree and Toby go from here? By the time the credits roll, we’ve become so involved in their lives that we want that question answered. How many movies can we say that about? To my way of thinking, far, far too few.
*Review by Rebecca Murray, Your Guide to Hollywood Movies
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