TRANSAMERICA might not seem like the sort of story that could cause a lover of Gunfight At The O.K. Corral and Pork Chop Hill to stop kicking the bloodhound, put down the chainsaw, jump into the Hummer and tear through the barb wire en route to the video store, but I’m glad I did.
Attaching a social/sexual statement to a road movie makes for a sly delivery vessel; keeping the script fun while making points about gender equality and respecting the sensibilities of others who differ from The Norm is a good call. Whatever the hell The Norm is anymore, in this paranoid, dumbed-down Thought Wasteland we call the ‘Homeland’ (the little matter that we’re coerced to refer to Home as the ‘Homeland’ is for another movie I’d like to see).
Having the very likable Felicity Huffman give such a beautiful performance as the lead capped it. She was nominated for Best Actress in this 2005 dramedy (Reese Witherspoon’s more traditional troubles took the prize for Walk The Line). As she’s known more for TV (Desperate Housewives), was already 43 when this came out, and given the industry’s prejudice against older actresses being what it is, it’s likely this may be a one-off for her. Bask in the triumph, then, and those who aren’t too hidebound by their prejudices can savor the stellar work.
‘Bree’, once ‘Stanley’, has the go-ahead for final sex-re-assignment surgery. First, a thorny family issue has to be dealt with, involving a cross-country trip with a confused 17-year old boy. Truths will out. The director, David Tucker, co-wrote the script with Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, and they do tend to stack the deck some in seeming to lay all bigotry about sex orientation at the screen-doors of Middle America White-Folk (movie-speak for everyone named Johnson or Smith who has the bad taste to exist between Wilshire Blvd. and Central Park West). Acceptance in this movie comes from Mexican-Americans (is that a demographic big on untraditional sex roles?), and a wise Native American (because in modern movies all Native-Americans are wise). The estimable Graham Greene’s kindly ‘Calvin Many Goats’ is such a help. Those pleasing if convenient p.c. contrivances are easily outweighed by the laudable intentions, numerous laughs, and moments of genuinely moving tenderness. Huffman’s empathy, tact, sweetness and physical skill amount to tour de force, as she conveys a lifetime of hurt and subterfuge while leavening it with wry humor. You’ll applaud.
The 103 minutes co-stars Kevin Zegers (‘Toby’), Fionnula Flanagan (mom from hell, or in this case, Phoenix), Burt Young, Elizabeth Pena, Carrie Preston (fun bit as Bree’s rowdy sis) and Grant Monohan. National treasure Dolly Parton wrote and sings the superb Oscar-nominated song “Travellin’ Thru”. The heartfelt and spirit-affirming film was made on a scratch budget of $1,000,000 and returned fifteen times that.