R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Duncan Tucker
with Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Elizabeth Peña, Graham Greene, Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Carrie Preston, Grant Monohon, Jon Budinoff, Bianca Leigh, Venida Evans, Richard Poe
release US 2.Dec.05,
UK 24.Mar.06
05/US Weinstein 1h43

Are you my mother? Zegers and Huffman

huffman pena greene

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Transamerica An unnerving honestly infuses this film, from its near-documentary visual style to the gritty truthfulness of the performances. First-time filmmaker Tucker approaches a difficult story in exactly the right way.

Bree (Huffman), formerly Stanley, is a transsexual who's ready for her operation, the last step in a difficult journey. But a week before the hospital date, she gets a phone call from a 17-year-old boy, Toby(Zegers), who claims to be Stanley's son. Her therapist (Peña) insists that she deal with this, so she flies to New York and ends up on a cross-country road trip with Toby back to Los Angeles. After a series of adventures, they arrive at the home of her parents (Flanagan and Young) in Phoenix. Could be trouble.

Tucker approaches this material head on, never flinching from difficult revelations, awkward conflicts or physical openness. This makes the film feel like a breath of fresh air in a cinema landscape that's overcrowded with insipid, deadened movies that are afraid to be honest about anything. There's certainly nothing bland about this remarkable film. On the other hand, the plot is just a bit overwritten, reliant on a series of extraordinary events that feel rather contrived for dramatic effect.

But it's in the characters themselves that this film works wonders, and Huffman brings Bree to life with remarkable openness--we can see her struggling to make sense of herself as she faces a situation far beyond anything she ever expected. And when we meet her parents, we begin to understand her quirks. Meanwhile, Zegers is terrific as the young, world-wise but deeply naive Toby. And the inclusion of the sardonic Peña and the almost too-nice Greene (as a helpful stranger) add intriguing textures.

While the film's road movie structure might be essentially textbook, Tucker and his cast infuse it with a gentle, often hilarious warmth that feels bracingly candid, a little bit melancholy and surprisingly revelatory. It may seem like a film about transsexuality, but it's actually a moving story of ordinary people seeking a sense of purpose in their lives, and to find someone understanding to share it with.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity, drugs 22.Nov.05

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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall