Felicity Huffman received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Bree Osbourne in Transamerica - a nomination she richly deserved. When I first read that a woman was playing a man who is a pre-operative transsexual in this movie, I thought, "Why a woman?" It seemed far more logical to choose a man for such a role. I certainly was wrong. Huffman convincingly created a man striving to adopt feminine traits - not an easy chore. In an interview on the DVD, she and the director expound upon how difficult it was for Huffman first to rid herself of all of her natural feminine moves and gestures, create masculine moves and gestures, and then try to transform those masculine traits to those of a man becoming a woman. Her performance makes the movie worthwhile viewing but the project possesses many more elements which all work together to create a funny, poignant, educational, and truly enjoyable film.
Bree Osbourne is a pre-operative transsexual just days away from the final surgery when she receives a message that she has a son from a one-time sexual experience with a girlfriend in college some seventeen years earlier. Bree is content to just let the matter drop, but her psychologist insists that she contact the son before giving permission for the surgery. Bree travels from California to New York and bails the son out of jail where he has been incarcerated for being a street hustler. Bree doesn't tell the son that she is his father but pretends to be an interested "do-gooder" from a religious group. The son convinces Bree to drive him across country to L.A. where he hopes to become a porno star. Thus begins an extremely bizarre and interesting road trip.
A young actor named Kevin Zegers plays Bree's son. Zegers displays a full range of talents representing a damaged young man who is basically innocent yet knowledgeable of the hard, gritty aspects of life. He uses drugs but is not addicted in a way that they form the major direction of his life. I was reminded of a book I read some years ago entitled For Love or Money by Robin Lloyd on the subject of boys in America who prostitute themselves. Zegers beautifully portrays the large majority of these young men who are throwaways of society just looking for a little honest love and caring.
During the trans-America journey in Transamerica, it is necessary for Bree to visit the home of her parents where she is greeted by a harpy of a mother who grabs her private parts to make sure she is still her "son." The actions of the mother reminded me of a student I had taught years ago whose father had concluded that he needed to seek sexual reassignment. I had had conferences with this man and his wife who were both reasonable and likable people. Yet, after their separation there was such a clear and unspoken hatred in the wife for her husband that conferences with her became very uncomfortable for me. Bree's mother so reminded me of that woman.
The journey that these two very damaged people take enables us all to better understand those sad individuals who - no matter the circumstances - are forced to live in that gray area on the edge of "accepted" society. This is an understanding we all need to foster.