(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
Let's go down the Indie film checklist: story a bit out of the mainstream, check, first time writer/director, check, troubled main character, check, dysfunctional family, check, road trip, check, quirky characters, check. The new film, Transamerica, has all the Indie movie bells and whistles. It tells the story of Stanley (Felicity Huffman) who is about to have the operation that you used to go to Sweden to have. He/she lives and dresses as a woman but still has the male package. Stanley is just waiting for the OK from his therapist (Elizabeth Peña) to get the operation when he learns that he has a son (Kevin Zegers). Stanley bails the son out of jail and then takes him on a cross-country odyssey of discovery. Along the road, they stop in to visit Stanley's estranged family (Burt Young, Fionnula Flanagan, Carrie Preston) and a love-sick cowboy (Graham Greene). Stanley holds back two small pieces of information from his son: that he is a man and that he is his father. But, you know that eventually, first one and then the other secret will come out.
Everything you can think of to include in a cross-dressing movie, that you have already seen in La Cage aux Folles and Some Like it Hot, is thrown in here, but Transamerica isn't nearly as entertaining. Of course, Transamerica is not a comedy. It is supposed to be a drama. But Huffman never won me over. In fact, she never made me think for a moment that she wasn't a woman playing man, rather than the opposite. I don't know how much of this is due to the fact that Huffman is the well-known actress and star of Desperate Housewives. Maybe it would have been easier to accept her in this role if she was an unknown. The only real parallel, I know of, to this kind of role, is Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously. In this fabulous film, starring a young and hot Mel Gibson and a young and hot Sigourney Weaver, Hunt plays a man and pulls it off totally, winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (not Actor). Huffman, on the other hand, speaks in a low monotone for the whole movie sounding like a woman trying to sound like a man trying to sound like a woman. I think Some Like it Hot came to mind because Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag, reminded me of Huffman. A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman was pulled off pretty well by Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria. But she was playing a woman. Huffman is playing a man. The casting seems weird to me. She doesn't have the operation until the very end of Transamerica so why cast a woman? As far as I can see, they cast Huffman just so we can see a full frontal of her at the end of the movie.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, Transamerica has yet another first time writer/director, Duncan Tucker. I give him low marks for both the writing and the directing. Transamerica would not be out of place as your average TV movie of the week. However, the supporting cast is pretty darn good, with exception of Zegers, who plays the son. He just sort of mopes through the movie. The best two people in the movie are Burt Young and Graham Greene. They are the only characters that punch through the screen and evoke some emotion. Young (best known as Paulie in Rocky) is great as Huffman's father, who doesn't care whether she is a man or a woman. And Greene (Thunderheart, Dances with Wolves) is good as the would-be love interest because he is always good in every role no matter how small. And he's Canadian! Flanagan (Waking Ned Devine) is horrible in a horrible one-dimensional role as Huffman's mother. But it's nice to see Peña (Jacob's Ladder). She does as much as she can with a small part.
For me, Transamerica was all a little too calculated. And even then, it would have still been good if, well, if it were any good. The tagline for Transamerica is "Life is more than the sum of its parts." I would say that it is less than the sum of its parts. This is just the kind of role that people do to get nominated for Oscars and Huffman did get nominated for Best Actress (not Actor). In my opinion, she doesn't measure up to Clare Danes (Shopgirl), Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof) or Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale) who should have been nominated but weren't.