Transamerica

I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Traveling, traveling, traveling
Looking for something, what can it be
Oh I hate you some, I hate you some
I love you some
Oh I love you when I forget about me
I want to be strong I want to laugh along
I want to belong to the living
Alive, alive, I want to get up and jive
I want to wreck my stockings in some juke box dive
Do you want – do you want – do you want
To dance with me baby
Do you want to take a chance
On maybe finding some sweet romance with me baby
Well, come on

I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free
Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling
It’s the unraveling
And it undoes all the joy that could be
I want to have fun, I want to shine like the sun
I want to be the one that you want to see
I want to knit you a sweater
Want to write you a love letter
I want to make you feel better
I want to make you feel free
Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm,
Want to make you feel free
I want to make you feel free

– Joni Mitchell, ‘All I Want’

Let me put it this way. If come Oscar night Felicity Huffman does not walk away with that little gold statue for her performance in Transamerica, then one can safely conclude that every single member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is as blind as a bat.

Not that Transamerica is by any means a profound or great film – it’s a simple, lightweight movie about parents and children and the forging of new relationships – in many ways a bitter-sweet standard – a film much closer in spirit to, say, Mrs. Doubtfire than to Boys Don’t Cry.

And that is precisely the point. As a movie about gender identity, Transamerica is the precise antidote to Brokeback Mountain (see my review here), the comic foil to that movie’s tragic angst. Director and Screenwriter Duncan Tucker’s contribution here is that he does not shy away from making his main character, a transexual named Bree Osbourne as confused, as ridiculous as incapable of dealing with life’s great challenges as the rest of us, and in doing so makes here lovably, endearingly human. Transamerica is not a film about gender identity – it is a film about an amusingly uptight and somewhat ditsy woman who just happens to be, technically, a man. As Bree struggles to cope with the disapproval of her mother and tries desperately to establish a meaningful relationship with her newfound son, her nervousness and vulnerability is no different from that of any grown up woman in crisis.

The real marvel of the movie, though, is clearly Huffman herself. Huffman doesn’t just pull off a man’s role here, she pulls off the role of a man who wants to be (and is, in all ways except biologically) a woman. And then she makes you fall half in love with that woman. This is mesmerising to watch, a performance of genius – one that combines tenacity and deep emotional courage (unlike the heroes in Brokeback Mountain, Bree is not conflicted about her identity – she is very clear that she is a woman, her only regret is that other people seem to have a problem understanding this) with silliness, finicky-ness and fallability. It’s a raw-edged performance, delivered at a shrill pitch of near hysteria through which darker pools of quiet desperation show through. When she lets her guard down, and you see the roughness hidden behind the make up, Bree Osbourne is convincing as neither a man nor a woman – but it is precisely in those moments that she is must deeply, unutterably convincing as a person.

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