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May 26, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 21
 
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Thursday, Jun 20, 2019

 

 



 
The Real Spin
Felicity Huffman is a different kind of desperate housewife in Transamerica
by Ron Anders - SGN A&E Writer

Bree Osbourne, a 37 year-old pre-op Transsexual living in Los Angeles, is one week away from the surgery that will complete her journey to womanhood. When Bree finds out she has a 17 year-old son languishing in a New York City jail, her therapist tells her she must make peace with him before she is allowed to have her operation. Her cross-country journey, both geographic and emotional, is the seriocomic heart of Transamerica, writer/director Duncan Tucker's first film, which makes its DVD debut this week.

The film serves as a setting for Felicity Huffman to shine, and shine she does. This is a beautifully nuanced performance, justly nominated for an Academy Award. She uncannily embodies Bree's awkward, prim determination. When we first meet Bree, her discomfort in her own body is so visceral that she seems likely to leap out of her skin. As the film progresses, she gradually wins her internal (and sometimes external) battle, and transforms before our eyes. These are not just the affectations of an actor trying on a role. Walking in her shoes, literally and figuratively, is quite a feat of acting. It's as if she had known Bree for a very long time.

Huffman finds the rhythm of a person who is constantly modulating herself. It is startling and funny to see her stiff, plodding walk (made even more awkward by platform sandals) and her fluttery, uncertain body language. Bree is a proper lady caught in the conundrum of how much of Stanley (her given name) to leave behind, and how much to keep with her. She seems overwhelmed by every curve that is thrown to her, yet quickly rises to meet any challenge - and the film provides her with many. She is always trying to do the right thing.

Kevin Zegers excels in his sullen-but-sweet role as Bree's son Toby, who has been hustling on the mean streets of New York. He is simultaneously worldly and naïve, furious at Bree's hiding the revelation of their relationship, but clearly needing love and limits.

Although the road movie conceit often feels contrived, the performances by Huffman and Eggers are so funny and resonant that we don't notice the farfetched plot. Their journey brings them to a number of locations, each of which sets off emotional fireworks. Bree misguidedly brings Toby to his hometown, only to cause a dangerous reunion with his stepfather. She then pays a disastrous visit to her parents in Arizona. The cartoonish portrait of her family temporarily derails the film, but it quickly gets back on track when Bree returns to Los Angeles to face her surgery.

The DVD extras include a conversation with the director and Huffman, and another with the director and Zegers. You can also watch Dolly Parton's music video for her Oscar-nominated song Travelin' Thru, as well as a brief documentary of the making of the video. While the director's commentary track provides few revelations about the production, its pleasures come from hearing a novice director's experience of shooting his freshman effort. The film was made for about $1 million - a tiny financial shoestring by Hollywood standards. We learn that the vehicles in the film belonged to the director's family, and his mother's home doubled for that of Bree's parents. Tucker also tells a funny story of saving $20,000 (the cost of a fake penis that would "pee" on cue) by asking his propmaster to enhance the prosthetic device that Huffman had procured for a few dollars.

One more tidbit: Felicity Huffman's work schedule on Transamerica was very tight because she had an upcoming TV pilot to film - a little show you may have heard of called Desperate Housewives.

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