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WEINSTEIN COMPANY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Duncan Tucker
Cast:
Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Elizabeth Peña, Graham Greene, Burt Young, Carrie Preston, Venida Evans, Jon Budinoff
Writing Credits:
Duncan Tucker

Tagline:
Life is more than the sum of its parts.

Synopsis:
A pre-operative male-to-female transsexual takes an unexpected journey when she learns that she fathered a son, now a teenage runaway hustling on the streets of New York.

Box Office
Budget
$1 million.
Opening Weekend
$46.908 thousand on 1 screen.
Domestic Gross
$8.865 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 5/23/2006

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Duncan Tucker
• “A Conversation with Duncan Tucker and Felicity Huffman” Featurette
• “A Conversation with Duncan Tucker and Kevin Zegers” Featurette
• Music Video
• “Making the Music Video” Featurette
• Blooper Reel
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Transamerica (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 17, 2006)

1982’s Victor/Victoria featured Julie Andrews as a woman playing a man pretending to be a woman. For 2005’s Transamerica, Felicity Huffman goes one better: she’s a woman playing a man becoming a woman. Huffman takes on the part of Bree Osbourne, a pre-op transsexual who strongly desires to become a post-op transsexual. She goes through all of the hormone therapies and whatnot as she awaits approval of the big snip-snip/tuck-tuck.

A twist occurs when she finds out the Stanley Schupak – her prior male incarnation – apparently sired a son years earlier. Bree seems disinterested in this, but her therapist Margaret (Elizabeth Pena) feels it’s a more important issue. Margaret withholds permission for Bree’s surgery until she deals with this potential part of Stanley’s past.

Bree heads to New York to bail 17-year-old Toby Wilkins (Kevin Zegers) out of jail. Toby’s been hustling on the streets and lives a very low-rent existence. He plans to move to LA and act in porn flicks.

Once again, Bree tries to pass off her responsibility to Toby, but Margaret forces her to deal with her past. This means that Bree and Toby take a road trip from New York back to LA. She doesn’t let him know her connection to his lineage and pretends to be a church worker. As the pair head across the US, they get to know each other and learn about their pasts.

Inevitably, they bond as well. Possibly the worst aspect of Transamerica stems from its contrived situations. The Margaret character acts as nothing more than a plot device to force Bree to confront her past. I don’t get the feeling that this occurs because Margaret really thinks Bree needs to deal with these issues before the operation. I think it occurs because it makes for a more interesting movie situation, and the transparency of this notion makes it tough to swallow.

The movie also goes out of its way for other improbable situations simply to create certain scenarios. For instance, at one point Toby insists that they go camping. Why? So we can see prissy Bree try to deal with the great outdoors. There’s no other sensible reason to stick the pair in the woods; nothing in the story requires it.

Frankly, much of the film feels this way. It comes across as a loosely connected series of events in search of a story. Granted, one can argue that life works in that fashion, but I think Transamerica lacks a natural sensibility. I hate to continually use the word “contrived”, but that’s the term that most immediately comes to my mind.

This doesn’t mean I don’t find some pleasures in Transamerica, though. Despite the forced nature of the plot, it remains consistently interesting and reasonably entertaining. It melds comedy and drama fairly well and creates predictable but compelling characters.

It takes guts for a TV actress whose career relies at least partially on her looks to take on this sort of role. It’s one thing for an established female movie star to take a chance, as they’ve already made a clear name for themselves. It’s entirely different for someone like Huffman to take such a chance and potentially mar future film prospects.

For Huffman, the gamble paid off since her performance received universal praise with no apparent backlash. I respect Huffman’s decision and think she does a solid job in the role. She easily could have let her makeup do the work for her, as she could have relied on her dumpy appearance more than any attempt at personality. This becomes an especially perilous path given the ease with which Bree could turn into a one-note joke of a character.

However, Huffman manages to dig deeper and create a more fleshed out performance. She has fun with the affected elements of the role as she forms a woman not really comfortable in that gender but trying hard. Huffman avoids simple stereotype, though, and she turns Bree into a three-dimensional personality, not just a twist on a drag queen.

I wish Transamerica had more to offer than an excellent lead performance, but the rest of it remains problematic. Actually, I should correct that, as I don’t want to impugn the other actors; they don’t stand out like Huffman, but they’re all fine in their roles. The artificial feel of the story and the lack of naturalism makes this an awkward piece, however. I like some parts of it but don’t think that the good elements can quite overcome the flaws.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Transamerica appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not excessively problematic, the transfer wasn’t particularly impressive.

Sharpness was a bit erratic. Some edge enhancement appeared, and more than a few shots displayed a moderate sense of ill-definition. The movie normally came across as acceptably distinctive and crisp, but it lacked the consistency I’d expect. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws remained minor. A few specks popped up, but otherwise this was a clean print. However, I thought grain seemed awfully heavy through much of the movie.

Transamerica went with a palette that favored natural hues. The DVD replicated the colors well, though they occasionally looked a little thick. Blacks were reasonably dense and deep, while shadows usually appeared fine. A few shots seemed a bit dense, but those weren’t big concerns. Overall, this was an adequate transfer.

I felt the same way about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Transamerica . I thought this would be nothing more than a quiet, chatty track, and that’s pretty much what I got. We got gentle ambience and nice stereo imaging for the music. The surrounds usually reinforced these elements but didn’t have a whole lot else to do.

Audio quality worked fine. Speech was always natural and concise, and I noticed no edginess or other problems. Music seemed lively and bright. The score offered good clarity and was well reproduced. Effects showed decent definition, though they didn’t broaden out much. Nothing here stood out as memorable, but the material served the movie well.

A moderate mix of extras fills out the DVD. We open with an audio commentary from director Duncan Tucker. He presents a running, screen-specific chat. Tucker tells us about inspirations and influences for the movie, casting, characters, and performances, research, camerawork and shooting 16mm, music and score, budgetary issues, locations, and the movie’s reception.

Overall, Tucker offers a good look at the production. He hits the usual general topics and also gets into interesting details. We get neat notes like how The Lord of the Rings compares to Transamerica and Huffman’s methods for her performance. We even hear about “Andy” the prosthetic penis. The commentary drags at times and doesn’t always scintillate, but there’s more than enough quality information here to make it a good track.

Next we find A Conversation with Duncan Tucker and Felicity Huffman. The pair sit together for this 19-minute and eight-second featurette. They look at why Tucker wanted Huffman for the role and why the part appealed to her. The actress also gets into research and aspects of her performances as well as elements of the production, the other actors, issues shooting on a low budget, and the movie’s reception.

This featurette includes some good insights, especially when Huffman discusses her take on the part. Unfortunately, Tucker and Huffman tend to devote much of their chat to praise for each other, various participants and the project in general. The program includes enough good notes to merit a look, but don’t expect a terrific amount of insight.

A similar piece comes to us via A Conversation with Duncan Tucker and Kevin Zegers. The direct chats with the young actor in this 10-minute and 19-second featurette. They discuss how Zegers got his part, what he liked about the role, impressions of Huffman and her transformation into Bree, facets of Toby, and various acting topics. This “Conversation” resembles its predecessor. It spews out a mix of adequate notes but pours on too much happy talk to become truly satisfying.

A music video for Dolly Parton’s Oscar-nominated tune “Travelin’ Thru” comes next. The song itself is listenable but not special, while the video is a dud. It just mixes shots of Dolly in the studio with movie clips.

We also find a four-minute and 18-second Making the Music Video. We hear from Tucker, Parton and Huffman. They tell us how Parton became part of the production, her approach to the song, and the collaboration between filmmaker and musician. The title of the featurette is misleading, as we don’t learn anything about the music video shoot. That’s fine since it’s such a simple piece. Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of good details about the tune either, as it mostly sticks with the same pleasantries and praise that mar the two prior programs.

After this we locate a Blooper Reel. The three-minute and 55-second clip mostly presents the usual goofs and silliness. A few minor improvs from Graham Greene make things a little more interesting than normal, though.

Finally, the set includes the theatrical trailer for Transamerica. Ads for The Libertine and Mrs. Henderson Presents open the DVD.

In years to come, Transamerica will be remembered solely for its standout lead performance by Felicity Huffman. Beyond her bold and daring turn, the movie offers a predictable and contrived experience. It entertains to a degree but it never quite coalesces into anything solid. The DVD presents adequate picture and audio as well as some good extras. Rent this one for a look at Huffman’s work.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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