This is my first post on The Hathor Legacy, and I had originally intended to post under the book section. However, I just re-watched Transamerica (one of my students is using it for their research paper) and got to thinking. Transgender theory holds a special place in my heart. When I was an undergraduate, I took this amazing class called "Literature of Passing" or something to that affect in which we examine various stories of passing–African-American passing as white, Japanese passing as Chinese during WWII, etc. For my final project I chose to focus on transgendered people. Thus (full circle) Transamerica.
This is a truly fantastic and human movie. Felicity Huffman's portrayal of pre-op transgender Bree Osbourne is pitch perfect; the viewer "gets" the struggle that this individual must undertake every single day in her efforts to slough off the physical trappings of male in order to become fully female. Furthermore, Huffman approaches this role with a real sensitivity–Bree Osbourne is not a caricature but rather a complex individual with emotions and demons. So many movies about transsexual or transgendered peoples present them as over the top, overly flamboyant shadows of real people. To Wong Fu comes to mind–each of the "female" transvestites (not to be confused with Drag Queens, who are men who dress as women as a performance or impersonation, transvestites are men who dress as women all the time but HAVE NOT had/or plan to ever have a sex change surgery) played by Wesley Snipes, Jon Leguizamo and Patrick Swayze are all caricatures of some facet of "woman": Snipes the angry black woman, Swayze the matronly nurturer, Leguizamo the feisty Latina. The audience is asked to suspend belief that each of these men can pass as women with their over the top ostentatious clothing, hairstyles, make-up, etc. In comparison, Transamerica's Bree Osbourne dresses in a more realistic (though, at times prudish) manner–no spike heels for this woman but rather more sensible flats and thick soled heels.
Additionally, Transamerica is the story of an inner journey–woman finds out she fathered a son back in the day and that said son is a bit of a mess (of the coked-up man whore variety). The movie is a classic buddy movie in which two characters travel cross country (think Thelma & Louise, Bill and Ted, and a slew of other such movies) and personal growth and hilarity ensues. Most often (with a few notable deviations) these movies are more hilarity and less growth–think Dumb and Dumber. Yet Transamerica does not. Don't get me wrong, there are funny moments (and they're beyond hilarious), but they're tempered with moments of profound sadness and thought. One moment, Bree's peeing desperately attempting to squat and pee like a woman but lets her frustrations get the better of her and she stands and pees (full frontal ensuing). It's a funny moment, because lets face it, penises are just funny contraptions and seeing one sticking out from under a skirt is seriously funny. But it's also incredibly sad at the same time because Bree's loathing of her male parts is clearly apparent. She hates her penis–it reminds her of all she isn't, specifically that she isn't whole. At this point, her son also discovers who she is and the relationship struggle for the rest of the movie is (thankfully) not about a man and woman falling in love and overcoming odd, but a father and son simultaneously getting to know each other and redefining their relationship. This, as well as a multitude of scenes, enhance the idea that drives the entire plot: no man (or woman for that matter) is an island, we all need someone to lean on and for Bree that is her son.
So, to wrap this up, Transamerica. Fantastic movie, fantastic story, fantastic lesson. Rent it. Watch it.