(2005, USA, English, 103 min)
Reviewed by Bruce Kogan
A generation ago a film with the title Transamerica would have been thought to be about an airline. But that was before transgender people and their issues became a separate and wholly distinct topic within the general gay right movement. Nobody would make that kind of a mistake today.
Sabrina formerly known as Stanley is a pre-op male transitioning to female. Everything is in place including having a therapist sign off on the operation. And then a blast from the distant past occurs. Sabrina gets a call from someone claiming to be Stanley's son. He's 17 and in the lockup in the Tombs in New York City. He's a gay kid himself and hustling on the streets. Sabrina's not known about her son Toby, the woman that she had the relationship back in her days as a he, is dead now.
Sabrina comes to Manhattan and bails young Toby out, adopting the guise of some Christian church lady who is looking to save street people. She gets custody of him and drives back to the small town in Kentucky where Sabrina learns what happened to her former partner. They also meet up with Toby's stepfather and quickly learn that isn't a suitable environment for the lad.
The movie is about the cross country odyssey Sabrina and Toby make. Toby's got good instincts and figures out the church lady is more than a concerned missionary. Felicty Huffman as Sabrina and Kevin Zegers as Toby develop an interesting chemistry and the audience gets to really care about these people.
Felicty Huffman is going places that up till now only Hillary Swank has successfully trod. But Hillary's role was one of unrelieved tragedy in Boy's Don't Cry. With Felicity Huffman's Sabrina, it's a more uplifting experience and while the ending is uncertain for her and the son she fathered, the possibility for a happy ending is very real.
I enjoyed both Fionula Flanagan and Burt Young as Felicity's parents. As the product of a mixed Catholic and Jewish marriage, my siblings and I could well appreciate the dynamics at work there even if all the kids came out straight. Burt Young's who's played all kinds of tough guys on screen since The Godfather is really great as the father who seems just as content to have two daughters as well as a son and daughter. But all the gender bending seems to be driving poor Fionula up the wall. They are an enjoyable contrast.
There was an actor who played a hitchhiker that Sabrina and Toby pick up in New Mexico who later steals their car after a nude swim. His name was Grant Monohan and if I didn't know better, I would swear this was a younger Pauly Shore. Or maybe it was Pauly Shore.
2005 has turned out to be quite a year for us sexual minorities with Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica. Our issues are getting into the mainstream of discussion now, almost forced into discussion by some very dedicated and very militant people who would not accept the hand dealt them for generations.
Transgender people as opposed to gay and lesbian folks have to deal with the whole issue of identity. A straight or gay man or woman will have opposite sex or same sex attractions, but do in fact live comfortably within the bodies given them. A transgender individual is not at one with the person they see in the mirror.
That's a step beyond and a step that I can't comprehend because I'm not one of them. But having been around enough transgender people in the last several years, it is a step that I realize that a whole lot of people have taken and that must be respected. Sabrina was closeted inside the body of Stanley for years, a more harsh and bitter prison than someone who simply plays make believe about whom they are sexually attracted to.
Transamerica is a happier film than Boy's Don't Cry. Maybe in the not too distant future we'll see a real 'happily ever after' ending in a transgender subject film. A goal to be fervently prayed for and worked for.