Watch the trailer (at apple.com).
I know that if I were about to have my family jewels cut off so that I could finally become the female I always wanted to be, the last thing I would want is to go on a cross-country trip with my juvenile delinquent son. No thank you. But sometimes you don't get a choice.
Bree (Felicity Huffman) is the girliest of girls. The kind that always has her nails done, never has a hair out of place, and screams for help at the sight of a spider. Of course, the sound she emits would be about three octaves lower than the average woman. You see, Bree used to be known as "Stanley". And "Stan" isn't some weird Eastern European nickname given to little girls.
But Bree would rather forget all about Stan. In fact, she's been steadily working to kill him off altogether. She's been taking hormones and has her heart set on surgery. But just when the date for the operation approaches, she unexpectedly finds out that when she was a he, Stan had fathered an illegitimate son, Toby (Kevin Zeger), who's just been thrown in jail for theft (he stole a frog) and drug possession. Margaret, Bree's psychologist and only friend, (Elizabeth Peña) refuses to sign the waiver for Bree's sexual reassignment surgery until she deals with this long lost son and, in turn, her past as a man. Well, before you can say "vagina," Bree's on a plane headed for NYC to bail out Toby and finally wash her hands of any evidence of her maleness.
Of course, she doesn't have the balls (no pun intended) to tell Toby the truth. So she simply goes along when he assumes that she's a missionary for an organization that works to reform wayward youth. This issue is the source of much humor as Bree isn't a god-fearing kind of gal. As hokey as this scenario sounds (it has "Three's Company episode" written all over it), it actually doesn't come off as completely contrived.
I thought Transamerica would be this melodramatic tale of mother/father-son bonding full of cheesy moments, an overly-earnest "finding yourself" theme and a soundtrack that included Damien Rice or, perhaps even The Dave Matthews Band. Gag. It was neither of those things. Yes, Bree does come to understand herself better and, yes, she does bond with her son, but none of it is saccharine. It's honest and engaging and complicated.
The choice of using a female actor to play a man that's turning into a woman was interesting. Huffman, best known for her role as Lynette Scavo the overworked mother of four boys on Desperate Housewives, is absolutely amazing in this role. You truly believe she's a transsexual. I was all, "Yeah... Felicity Huffman really does look like a guy!" She brings a touching vulnerability to the performance drawing you in to Bree's body issues. And writer/director Duncan Tucker does an outstanding job in bringing the character to life. Furthermore, Fionnula Flanagan as Stanley's/Bree's crazy mother, Elizabeth, is excellent. She is a total scene-stealer. In fact, all the acting here is top notch.
In lieu of taking your brood to see The Family Stone, King Kong or Narnia, why not drag them to see this instead? If nothing else, it'll make things interesting. Christmas dinner will be extra fun. Seriously, it has a great message and is all about family values. What more could you possibly ask?