Felicity Huffman as Sabrina ‘Bree’ Osbourne
Kevin Zegers as Toby Osbourne
Fionnula Flanagan as Elizabeth
Graham Greene as Calvin
Burt Young as Murray
Elizabeth Peña as Margaret
Carrie Preston as Sidney
Venida Evans as Arletty
Bianca Leigh as Mary Ellen
Grant Monohon as Hitchhiker
Richard Poe as John
Barbara Barron as Ms. Swallow
Jon Budinoff as Alex
Danny Burstein as Dr. Spikowsky
This unusually charming situational comedy is a bit rough around the edges, but Felicity Huffman truly shines in a role that makes you forget she’s a man er woman.
Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), born Stanley, is just days away from the operation that would make him a real woman. On learning s/he has a son named Toby, who has been getting into all sorts of trouble, Bree goes to New York City to get him out of juvenile lock-up. Keeping her identity, both as a man and as his father a secret, Bree takes the teen on a cross-country road trip to California.
Although the cross-gender road comedy is not new–let’s not forget “To Wong Fu ” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”–Duncan Tucker’s debut feature is different in its approach in that it’s a comedy that takes a serious look at the transgender lifestyle. It’s almost the polar opposite to Neil Jordan’s “Breakfast on Pluto,” mainly due to the jaw-dropping performance by “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffmann and the fact that because you really believe she’s a man wanting to become a woman. With that in mind, you should expect the gender confusion in this review to be in full effect, just as it is in the movie.
When we first meet “Bree”, formerly known as Stanley, she’s an awkward introvert, still trying to find her balance while walking on heels and not exactly comfortable in public, maybe because her basso profondo voice is a dead giveaway to her true gender. Bree’s just days away from taking the final step in his gender modification when a fateful call beckons her to New York to bail the teenage son she never knew about–the results of Stanley’s one hetero-fling–from juvenile detention. Toby is a confused teen, who has been hustling on the streets for drug money ever since running away from home, and his only real goal to go to L.A. and become a porn star. The uptight Bree can’t have that, and posing as a prudish Christian missionary to keep his/her identity a secret, she decides to take the boy home to his stepfather. So begins an odd journey of discovery across the South unlike any other.
The premise for Duncan Tucker’s debut feature is certainly not something you see every day, and his voice is as distinctive as Alexander Payne’s, with much of the humor coming from Bree’s attempt to remain in “stealth” from Toby. It’s certainly worth a few chuckles to watch Bree acting like the boy’s mother then getting upset when others assume that to be the case, while also not letting on that he’s really Toby’s father.
Maybe the premise isn’t strong enough to carry an entire movie, but as the comedy bits start to wane, it’s replaced by a touching journey of discovery for both Toby and Bree. Just as that is about to lose steam, the film hits another peak when the twosome arrives at Bree’s parents’ house. After only a few minutes with Bree’s meddlesome and judgmental mother, a hilarious performance by Fionnula Flanagan, it starts to make sense why she tells everyone that her family is dead. The dysfunctional madness that ensues could fill a movie in itself.
There’s no question that this movie belongs to Felicity Huffman, who proves herself to be a true wonder, by pulling off something that few other actresses, or actors, could do. With transgender make-up as impressive as the process used to turn Charlize Theron into Aileen Wuornos, the normally beautiful actress is made to look homely, but it’s amazing to watch her transformation from prudish ugly duckling to graceful swan, using newfound “feminine wiles” on a samariton and would-be suitor who offers them a ride–a nice bit part by Graham Greene. Still, nothing is more shocking than when Bree tries to discreetly pee, a moment that will take you completely by surprise even if you’re expecting it. Either way, you’ll likely forget that you’re really watching a woman on screen, a true testament to this fine performance.
Though the movie has a well-crafted script with more than a few memorable moments, the supporting players aren’t nearly as strong as Huffman, her talented young co-star Kevin Zegers, Flanagan or Greene. In general, the film isn’t particularly well shot and the editing leaves a bit to be desired, especially in the few “action scenes”, but Tucker does get his story across and the magnificent Ms. Huffman does the rest.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re open to alternative forms of humor, than “TransAmerica” offers enough laughs and strong heartfelt moments that you’ll never look at the transgender lifestyle the same way again. Much of that has to do with how Felicity Huffman and Duncan Tucker have created this truly unique creature known as Bree Osbourne.