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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Transamerica
Transamerica
The Weinstein Company // R // May 23, 2006
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Raymond So | posted May 23, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Bree Osbourne, a transsexual woman, is about to complete the final step in her gender reassignment when she is stunned to learn she is the biological father of a troubled 17-year-old son. They begin a cross-country road trip together that takes them on a journey of discovery, struggle, and acceptance.

Felicity Huffman will stun viewers with her shocking transformation into Bree, with an unforgettably believable performance that earned her an Academy-Award nomination. Impossibly attractive Kevin Zegers gives his own incredible performance as Bree's grungy hustler son Toby, in a role full of youthful angst and vulnerability. The two lead actors both carry the film into "classic performance" territory on the strength of their chemistry and their ability to totally immerse themselves into their characters. The film also features wonderful performances from Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Elizabeth Pena, and Graham Greene.

As Bree and Toby spend time together, each gains knowledge about their own priorities and develops insight into what kind of person they hope to be. While Bree and Toby might at first seem to be completely different personalities from totally incompatible backgrounds, the movie's most valuable lesson for both the main characters and the viewer is that all people are more alike in their fears, loves, and insecurities than they realize.

First-time director Duncan Hunter really turns his debut feature into quite an achievement for independent filmmaking. In his commentary track, he frequently remarks about the constraints of his super-low budget, yet the finished product looks well-polished while maintaining an appropriately classic-Americana feel. The costuming and makeup crew also clearly have done an outstanding job to turn each character into a real, living, emotional person. Worth mentioning is the subtle changes in Bree's "look" as the film progresses, reflecting the genuine differences cosmetics and hormones make in the daily lives of the transgender community.

No matter what the viewer's personal feelings are about transgendered people, this amazing movie will make you fall in love with the characters as human beings. As the movie begins, viewers might react to Bree's character with some caution... and certainly will be thinking to themselves what an incredibly ugly woman she is! By the end of the film though, viewers will see Bree as they would a cherished relative or friend, and you truly care for her and Toby's happiness. Even as the credits roll, you just wish you could continue seeing what happens in their remarkable lives.

The DVD

Video:
This DVD is presented in the original anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. This film was shot on Super-16, resulting in a slightly washed-out look that actually adds to the down-home folksy feel and desert locales utilized in the movie. In this case, the lack of vibrancy works as an advantage and is not distracting. The film does maintain a professional, well-edited feel and it is easy to forget that this was a low-budget independent venture.

Sound:
The one audio track is Dolby Digital 5.1, which sounds fine throughout the film. Spoken audio is clear and understandable. The movie does not rely on any challenging sound effects, but the sound field is appropriate for the feel of this film. Most music is mixed into the background; the country, folk, and native-American tunes have a limited range and are easily handled by normal home theater speaker systems. The soundtrack works very well to add to the ambiance of the film, particularly capturing the dusty American Southwest locale where several of the film's major moments take place.

Extras:
This DVD includes several interesting special features. Besides chapter selection and optional Spanish subtitles or English closed-captioning, there is a commentary track with director Duncan Tucker. While the commentary reveals some interesting information about the limitations of the small filming budget and about the challenges faced by the actors in their roles, it is somewhat boring at times as the director tends to repeat details or info he discusses in the 'Conversation' featurettes included on the DVD. These are 'Conversations' between the director and Felicity Huffman, and between the director and Kevin Zegers. Both featurettes are in "talking-head" style without any interviewer or narrator. The nearly 20-minute conversation with Huffman is the more interesting of the two, as Huffman and Tucker reveal quite a lot about the actors' performances, the difficulty in obtaining distribution, and the screening audiences' reactions to the film. The shorter 12-minute segment including Zegers is mostly interesting just for fans of the actor as it mostly focuses on his pretty-boy looks. Other extras include the theatrical trailer, the Dolly Parton music video for her Oscar-nominated theme song "Travelin' Through", and a short behind-the-scenes look about the theme song. Also included is a Blooper Reel that actually consists more of outtakes of the actors making funny faces or saying unscripted jokes rather than actual bloopers. The special features are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is more than adequate for the needs of these extras.

Final Thoughts:
Many potential viewers may be turned off by the subject matter of this movie, assuming they would have no interest in a "tranny-themed" movie. This would be an unfortunate misassumption, as 'Transamerica' is not an "issue" movie, but rather an endearing and captivating tale about relationships and parenthood with a universal theme about discovering oneself that anyone will relate to. The film is not preachy about transgender acceptance, and any educating about gender identity is blended naturally into the storyline. The film also properly does not confuse transsexuality with a gay sexual orientation, showing a respectable understanding of this misunderstood community. The movie takes place during the course of a road trip, and the varying locales during Bree and Toby's journey keep the pacing engaging and never boring. The plot deftly combines moments of comedy and drama, resulting in an old-fashioned timeless human story that even a staunch conservative will enjoy. The film does not go for "shock value" and the one "Crying Game" moment fits naturally into the plotline. This touching tale is a movie to be loved for years, with a groundbreaking subject and truly incredible performances from the stars. It has higher than average replay value too, as each repeat viewing brings out more nuances of the wonderful performances.

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