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Transamerica Review: Truth & Sensitivity

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A couple weeks ago, I made a list of TS films, and in that post I “threatened” to write a review of the films I suggested our readers check out. Well, I thought it was only fair to follow-up my words with some action.

After taking several hours to watch Transamerica from beginning to end – including thoughtful breaks to ruminate if I wanted to write a review – my opinion of the film started to evolve. The process I found myself in reminded me of critique class in art school. You can’t just say “I don’t like it.” You have to pick apart the details one by one, mindfully exploring the feelings you experience and wade through cloudy waters to get to a place of understanding. “I don’t like it” is usually code for “I don’t understand it” and will often become “I get it”.

Please see my post “Trans Films for Date Night“, and cite my description of Transamerica.

After the first few scenes, I realized the film lacked a particular sophistication I was expecting it to hold. And many times throughout the film, I was tempted to shut it off. But there was a consistent 5-10% theme of either something missing or just enough there to keep me hanging in. I also wanted to like it. The film is a landmark in the TS community. It also won 2 Oscars, 28 other awards, and received 12 nominations. How could I not hang in with just 5-10% lacking?

I found every character – except one minor character who was exceptionally realistic – a wee bit unconvincing. Just a wee. This left me feeling 5-10% distant from the film – like there was a physical, yet empty barrier between myself and the television set. I couldn’t get immersed in the film experience (either you’re a complete voyeur, or you’re right in there holding hands with the characters). I was easily distracted from being engaged in the storyline, however, as the story unfolded and the characters started to bond, I found myself smiling and felt my heart connect. Alright, I thought, I’ll stay seated.

The script and cinematography were about 5% unbelievable. Transamerica had the aesthetic of a 1980s comedy movie. Not just in the cinematography and lighting, but mostly in the area of Bree’s (the lead character) fashion choices. Does Bree have to lack a sense of the 2000s style just to convey that she’s still transitioning? Would we as viewers not believe her character in its entirety if she was stylized with the simple modern lines of The Gap and furnishings from Style at Home magazine? I go on… Bree’s entire apartment is adorned in bubblegum pink walls and oversized rose-patterned upholstery ad nauseum. Her fashion included terribly tacky billowing chiffon sleeves and church-like turtlenecks and overcoats.

I hate to say it, but I felt it was a contemporary shadow of Tootsie (also note the guests at the “friend of a friend of a friend’s” TG party). However, all that being said, the film is intelligent and sensitive to matters of being TS, so I believe the filmmaker knew what he was doing.

I enjoyed the unsophisticated banter: “Are you getting your dick cut off?” The importance lies both in the myth of that ideology and also in the reply: “It’s just getting turned inwards.” Still, an incredibly rudimentary way of explaining SRS, but the question was blurted out by a 17-year-old who was coming to terms with the erratic and irrational world he had been exposed to.

In fact, many uncomfortable moments of stereotypical questioning and behaviour could have come from other characters in the film, but Transamerica stayed true to certain truths. There was a steady even-keeled handling of Bree’s relations and encounters. Would she be respected? Would she get hurt? Would she be outcast even further by her family? Would she find love? Would she and her newly found son develop a true relationship?

All in all, that 5-10% was worth sitting through. And I’m certainly glad a film like this was made over another Terminator.

If you’ve seen the film, please let us know what you thought in the comments below.

Tell us what you think!

Tell us what you think!

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