Saturday, July 22, 2006

Transamerica (2005)

TransamericaTransamerica received a lot of publicity earlier this year when lead actress Felicity Huffman received an oscar nomination for her role in the film. Huffman, best known for her glamourous role on TV series Desperate Houseweives is a woman, playing a man who dresses and is about to have surgery to become a woman. Confused? I'm not surprised, and, in truth the whole transgender back-story is rather irrelevant to the main story, which is a gentle comedy about a nice lady on a road trip, trying to connect with the son she never knew she'd had.

Huffman is excellent, playing 'nice' to perfection, but don't let oscar nominations mislead you - this is light, rather far-fetched fluff of the 'feel good' date movie variety, and as such, instantly forgettable. Unfortunately, despite Huffman's involvement, and that of her husband (as exec producer) Bill Macie, this is a very low-budget movie, and most of that low budget is pretty obvious on screen. If you're looking for something to show of that new LCD display you bought, this isn't it. Contrast is poor, lighting is appallingly bad at times, and the direction is unimaginative to say the least. This looks like it was made for TV rather than the movie theatres. The writer/director claims he deliberately wanted a 'home movie' feel - well, I guess he got what he wanted with a film that is mainly filmed on hand-held 16mm.

It's a hard movie for me to review, because it's not my particular genre - heartwarming 'feel good' movies that aren't very believable just aren't my bag, but if Love Actually is your idea of a good night out, then this should be on your 'must see' list. Certainly Huffman is worth seeing, playing against type here in a career-best role, and she's joined by newcomer Kevin Zegers, as her estranged son. Zegers turns in a nice, subtle, punchy but vulnerable performance - expect to see more of him in the future.

Letting the writer direct his own story seems to me to have been a big mistake, given the lacklustre results we get on screen. On the commentary track, writer/director Duncan Tucker admits he never went to film school. Well duh! That's pretty evident! Too many of the acts follow the same repetitive formula - static sunset location shot then cut to the drama, with no visual flair to turn an above-average script into an above-average movie. But I guess the acting is first rate, and the basic done-to-death reconciliation 'road movie' story is at least given some new twists here. One thing I did find curious was the amount of nudity - most of it, quite honestly, gratuitous. This is a movie which, trans-gender backstory aside, seems to me to be primarily aimed at Middle America and the blue rinse brigade - just the sort of audience who will find the frontal nudity (both male and female) unnecessary or even offensive.

Extra's wise, the writer/director fares better on his enthusiastic commentary track than he does on the lengthy interviews with his two leads (separate pieces) where the gushing throughout is quite sick-making. There's a Dolly Parton video of the movie's main title track, and a short featurette on how she got involved and the recording of the song. There is also a short montage of out-takes, which are probably a nice souvenir for the cast and crew, but of little real value to the rest of us.

For me this is a rental, rather than a purchase, and I have to say that given all the good press, I was somewhat disappointed by the final film. I guess I came in with expectations set way too high. Your mileage may vary, particularly if your favourite brand of 'comedy' is the sort that is gentle and life-affirming rather than laugh-out-loud funny.

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