Comic road movie with an Oscar-worthy central performance that satisfies in a non-conventional kind of a way.

By Max Leonard

Bree, a pre-op transsexual ready to undergo the snip, is thrown into crisis when a phone call from a son she didn't know she had causes her therapist to withhold permission for the big operation. Her son, Toby, is a drug-addled hustler, under arrest in New York for soliciting on the street. Reluctantly, Bree travels across America to confront this unwelcome result of an awkward fumble at college (“so desperately lesbian I didn’t think it counted”) so she can leave her years as a man behind. Once they meet, Toby mistakes her for a Christian missionary out to save the immoral. She lets the misapprehension stand and offers to drive him to LA., intending all the while to conveniently drop him off somewhere along the way…

Thus begins a road movie which steers clear of the dangers inherent in the episodic format thanks to great acting and a compelling central relationship. There are some hilarious vignettes along the way (the transgender party in Texas, the family dinner) but it coheres thanks to Felicity (Desperate Wives) Huffman’s total commitment to her character – a role that would have been an intimidating challenge for any actress. Bree is vulnerable, mannered (occasionally bitchy), and totally believable: all large hands, scarves and self-conscious poise. Kevin Zegers’s Toby is a bundle of insecurities and neuroses himself, but the enforced intimacy and the threat of redneck Americana to these two outsiders brings them into some uneasy kind of friendship. The developing relationship is a treat to watch – as are the back-country vistas and down-home dinersas shot by cinematographer Stephen Kazmierski. Curiously, they are such good performances – and so well handled by debutant director Duncan Tucker –that the film ceases to be ‘about’ transsexuality and becomes a touching comedy about self-acceptance. Non-judgmental and refreshing, Transamerica is not a ‘big’ film, but it’s the first to come along since Sideways that satisfies in quite the same way.

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