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DVD Pick: Transamerica

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Gender Question

In the roadside restaurant the little kid stares at the adult stranger sitting at a nearby table and innocently asks, "Are you a boy or a girl?" The adult becomes distraught and rushes to a pay phone to talk with her therapist half a continent away because "an eight-year-old child just read me."

Bravura Performance by Felicity Huffman

The sequence described above is from Transamerica (2005), an indie comedy-drama I thoroughly enjoyed. The adult in the sequence is the film's central character, the 40-ish Bree. When the movie opens, Bree is just days away from the end of the long process of male-to-female transformation. All that remains is the final step: sexual reassignment surgery.

I was very impressed with Felicity Huffman's performance in the role of Bree. The actress, who is best known for TV's Desperate Housewives, uses a unique body language in portraying her character. But most importantly, Huffman managed to make me care about Bree, so that even through scenes where the film didn't seem completely plausible to me, I still continued to be emotionally engaged.

A Road Movie

The film begins by establishing that Bree is a Los Angeles resident who, after years of hormone treatments and medical procedures, is only a week away from her final surgery. But she gets a phone call that her 17-year-old son Toby (Kevin Zegers) is in trouble in New York. Although she had previously never even heard of Toby, she knows what happened: as a younger person, the anatomically male Bree had been trying to live as a man and had had sex with the woman who gave birth to Toby.

Bree is reluctant to get entangled with her son, but she flies to New York, and the two of them set out together on an auto trip back to L.A. Along the way they encounter a number of quirky characters, including Bree's straitlaced parents (Fionnula Flanagan and Burt Young). The episode I enjoyed most is about Bree's flirtation with a courtly rancher named Calvin Many Goats (Graham Greene).

Film Is Likable, but Uneven

Transamerica is an earnest and warmhearted movie that is at times quite funny. But the film occasionally slips into a TV sensibility, sometimes like a sitcom, sometimes like a soap opera. Still, watching Felicity Huffman play such a memorable, sympathetic character was enough to make me forgive the movie's faults.

A Topnotch Director's Commentary

Duncan Tucker wrote and directed Transamerica, and it's his first feature-length film. The DVD provides an audio commentary track by Tucker, and it compares favorably with any director's commentary I've heard. He tells us that most of the movie was shot using handheld cameras on locations in the Catskills and Arizona. He mentions that in the scene where Bree and Toby visit some transsexuals who are having a little party, all but one of the actors are real-life transsexuals. Tucker also talks about keeping costs down by using his mother's house for Bree's parents' home. And he describes how the crew managed to make a key prosthetic device for only a few dollars.

Five Short Bonus Materials

The DVD contains five additional bonus materials that I found worthwhile. A 19-minute interview with Tucker and Huffman and a 10-minute interview with Tucker and Zegers give us a chance to see and hear the two principal actors out of character. There's also a four-and-a-half-minute music video with Dolly Parton singing the Oscar-nominated song "Travelin' Thru" she wrote for the film. In addition, there's a four-minute discussion between Tucker and Parton about the song. And finally, the DVD contains a four-minute blooper reel.

DVD Details

Below I have given the details for the Transamerica DVD.

Release Date: May 23, 2006
Feature Film Run Time: 1 Hour 44 Minutes
Widescreen (1.78:1), Color
MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and Drug Use
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Captions for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired
Spanish Subtitles
Audio Commentary by Writer-Director Duncan Tucker
A Conversation With Duncan Tucker and Felicity Huffman (19 min.)
A Conversation With Duncan Tucker and Kevin Zegers (10 min.)
"Travelin' Thru" Dolly Parton Music Video (4 min. 34 sec.)
Making the Music Video (4 min. 15 sec.)
Blooper Reel (3 min. 55 sec.)
Theatrical Trailer

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