Friday, January 06, 2006

Transamerica or Trannie-Toons, you tell me...

Well, on an outing with a friend to go see the new Terence Malick film, The New World , we discovered that limited runs end on Tuesdays instead of the more logical Thursday. Which sadly means I will probably not be able to see the director's version on the big screen as they are cutting a lot of the movie out, because, as the concierge at ArcLight theaters informed me "There were whole scenes without dialogue." No! You don't say! In a Terence Malick film?! So instead we saw the Felicity Huffman vehicle Transamerica, a pale substitution.

Very pale.

Now, I know that you may be thinking that I hate everything as most of my reviews of the latest films have been negative, but instead of calling me a cynic, shall we instead look at the state of current American cinema. And really, would I make this site, a true labor of love, if I hated everything I saw? No is the answer that you're looking for, and it is also my answer to Transamerica.

Transamerica is a bad film. Even most reviewers will skirt around the fact that the film's structure is a flimsy and uninventive spin on the age old road movie. Replete with the unstable car purchased under unfortunate circumstances in New York and its subsequent theft (rather than its breakdown) and the sage like Native American playing sweet melodies on his acoustic guitar as the coyotes howl in the night, the film becomes a broken record of old cliches. And like most broken records, the worn down rounds are only sad facsimiles of those things we've already heard/seen a few too many times. The film feels like a Lifetime TV movie, in all of their worst ways (because, as you may know, I am a Lifetime aficionado), because eventually the film fails to imitate this format as well. It's a push and pull of sentimentality, yet all of the cliches fall flat and the film attempts to be too serious for its Hallmark approach.

Of course, it would be foolish to pretend that people are seeing Transamerica for the film itself. The only reason people are going in droves is for the allegedly fantastic performance by Felicity Huffman. And I suppose if you distill acting down to the craft - the doing what you are told and following through with the directors wishes, then sure, Huffman did a fine job. Problem is, writer/director Duncan Tucker has no idea who his Bree character is. Bree's transition throughout the film (afterall, this is a "sometimes you need to run away to find yourself" type of movie) is so extreme (and obvious, shedding her thick layer of cake makeup more and more - until at the end she is literally and metaphorically naked) that little character embellished written into the story are too brief or too little too late to actually get a sense of Bree as a living character. Instead, she comes off as a character on the would be Trannie-Toons. She is the up tight character that would normally be Parker Posey's in Law or an Avon lady, were she a real woman. And the sad thing about Transamerica is its regressive inability to allow Bree any sort of psychological depth - particularly (because of the plot structure) since we know what is going to happen before she does. I got the impression watching the film that this is the comfortable version of transegenderism that a heterosexual populous can deal with, one that is so concerned with passing (or here referred to as being Stealth) that when moments arise where there is some question to her gender, she instantly becomes filled with such self contempt and fears being seen as a freak. Most representations of trannies that I have seen in cinema are either in Hollywood movies (and here I'll include those diluted Queer romantic comedies) and-lower-case-a arte films(and I mean that with all respect). Where these figures are always the outlet of pure humor for the former, in the latter (though historically rich with comedic elements, think Flaming Creatures, Warhol Superstars, Divine) they are always bestowed a royal sense of hardness. If you think of the ladies in Jennifer Livingston's Paris Is Burning or the lead in Sebastien Lifschitz's Wild Side, they always have a self-assured fuck all front, even if, at the heart of it all, they yearn for something more. It's something that the lifestyle requires of you, and it is something Bree seems to have never experienced. Even the Todd Browning-esque group of Texas trannies are played as Freaks whose self-assurance has rendered them such. This is certainly not a progressive view of this culture. In fact, most of the "Queer" films to hit the "mainstream" this winter, lose all of the elements that might discomfort the heterosexual lefties that might go to see them. If you want an honest film about transexuality, might I recomend Wild Side. Stephanie is no fussy overcompensator. She is a woman.


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