Starring: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Graham Greene
Written By: Duncan Tucker
Directed By: Duncan Tucker
Released in 2005
"Life is more than the sum of its parts." - Tagline for Transamerica
A week before she is to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, Sabrina "Bree" Osbourne receives a phone call from a teenager incarcerated in New York City. He asks to speak to Stanley Schupak, the name Sabrina was born with, claiming to be Stanley's son. The next day, her psychologist is preparing to sign the release form for the procedure, but upon hearing this information she insists Bree seek out the boy first.
When Bree goes to bail him out she finds that he has been arrested for hustling on the streets. Pretending to be a missionary (from "the Church of the Potential Father", she ad libs), she and her son, Toby embark on a cross-country quest that changes both of their lives.
The plot to this film is remarkably similar to many other "road quest" movies, nearly mirroring a little known film starring Meg Tilly called Leaving Normal (1992). Two strangers agree to travel across country together, build a strong bond, and weather trials which threaten to separate them. What makes this film different is the performance of Felicity Huffman. She is simply stellar in this role. And let me tell you why.
First off, she never lets us forget that Bree is a transsexual woman. Her portrayal represents an individual who is still learning how to be a female, how to live in a gender she was not born into. Her belief that she is a woman is never questioned throughout the film, it is the one thing she is always sure of, the shield she uses against the world.
Bree is not perfect, but she is supremely endearing. A leading character who is transgendered could fall into the trap of either being a total mess or a sainted martyr. She is neither. She is dignified and gracious, but never a passive victim. Her first instinct is to maintain composure, and she does not lose it easily. Whenever she does, she has a damn good reason.
Her interactions with Toby are terribly honest, with her attempts to socialize and educate him providing the funniest bits of the movie. These are well-balanced with the dramatic elements, and sometimes the line between the two isn't very clear.
The result of all this was that when the movie ended, I realized that two hours had passed, which felt like minutes. Not only that, but I had become so invested in Bree's journey, in her as a person, that I had forgotten all the things about her that didn't matter. Despite Huffman's performance, (or because of it) all the make-up, the feminized masculine mannerisms, and the reactions of the other characters, she had simply become a human being1. And that is a beautiful thing.
The best film I have seen this year. Amazing.
1. One of my next door neighbors was a transgendered woman named Erin. Having been raised in the south, there are certain things I will do for a woman, out of courtesy and respect. After a month of knowing her, she laughed at me as we sat down to dinner at her favorite Mexican restaurant. I had pulled out her chair for her, and ordered her an iced tea while she was in the restroom. "You don't have to do all that to make me feel good." She said, patting my hand. I have given her many things over the course of our friendship, little gifts and such, but I think the best was when she realized I didn't even know what I had been doing; that of all the people in her life, I saw her as she saw herself. It's the best gift we can give one another.