by Pamela Cole
Atlanta, GA, Nov. 17, 2005Duncan Tucker makes us all
look like fools.
the Out On Film opening night preview of Transamerica
In his first feature film, with no formal training as a filmmaker,
Tucker has created Transamerica, a road trip story
with just enough of a twist to make it seem like one of the last
original ideas. The film opened the 2005 Out on Film Festival in
Atlanta on Nov. 17, 2005, where a packed crowd at Landmark Midtown
vied for parking and rummaged through major gift bags, courtesy
of Sundance. (Yeah, you missed it.) All for the privilege of sitting
through Transamerica while in-attendance writer/director Tucker
made all us would-be filmmakers look like fools. Tucker, who was
courteous enough to give a Q&A session after the film, seems
as astonished as anyone by the success of Transamerica.
"I don't know anything about making films," he said seriously.
"I couldn't tell you about the lenses used or the film stock
or any of that. I just felt I knew how to tell a story." And
how to write a script, as it turns out. The lead character's performance
by Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives as "Bree,"
a pre-op male-to-female transsexual, is already generating Oscar
buzz, even though the film won't be theatrically released until
December 23, 2005 (by Miramax, no less). When Huffman's husband,
actor William H. Macy, asked Tucker if he could do anything to help
after previewing a rough cut of the offbeat indie, Tucker mumbled,
"Gee, I don't know." Luckily, Tucker was surrounded by
people who knew enough to choose the right lenses and rush in to
accept Macy's offer of assistance. Macy subsequently became executive
The result is a truly screen-worthy film about a subject that has
been little mentioned onscreen in this age of sexual relevance.
Oh, Hollywood's released a few drag queens and flaming queer characters
in recent years (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the
Desert; and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything
both come to mind). But here is a rare story about a transsexual
transition told from a transsexual's point of view, a subject that
is little understood even in the gay-lesbian-bisexual community.
"I met a woman who, after a few months, told me what was under
her dress --and it was not what I thought it was going to be,"
said Tucker, describing how he stumbled upon the topic of transsexualism.
However, Tucker swears the movie is ultimately about families and
"celebrates our similarities more than our differences."
The film follows Bree on her transamerican journey, as she flies
to New York from Los Angeles just days before her final surgical
transition, to bail a street kid out of jail (who could be her son,
conceived in her only sexual soiree with a woman, an event Bree
deemed "too tragically lesbian" to count). The return
trip by car with said street kid in tow (ala Rainman)
is where the fun begins. Though the script has a few unbelievable
points necessary to carry the story (Bree inexplicably gives up
too much control to Toby, the street kid), we quickly get past those
points and accept them. Tucker compares the adventure to Lord
of the Rings.
"Frodo and Sam have to make this terrific journey to get rid
of something that neither of them wants," he said comparing
the cursed ring to Bree's penis. She has to get back to Los Angeles
in time for the surgery or wait another year and endure all the
hormonal and psychological preparation again. Apparently, there's
a long waiting list for this type of surgical exchange.
At times lush with imagery shot by DP Stephen Kazmierski, the film's
dialog is snappy and very funny, delivered by Huffman without the
campy attitude of many gay characters and painfully humble in its
honesty. Huffman elicits our sympathy in one of the very first scenes
as she desperately tries to convince a psychiatrist that she is
happy, by saying repeatedly, "Yes, I am a happy person
a happy person. A very happy person." All the while, her face
exudes the despair she feels as a woman with male anatomy.
When Bree breaks down in tears near the end of the film, saliva
pours from her mouth as she sobs in a way that is both disgusting
and recognizable. Anyone who has ever truly cried his heart out
forgives Felicity for this onscreen mess, and aches with her. Huffman's
performance as a woman portraying a man pretending to be a woman
is just rich with gender tension, as Bree struggles to become comfortable
in the world and in her new skin.
We witness both the vulnerability and the metamorphosis, watching
carefully for every inflection, every signification that might betray
Huffman. I found myself bouncing back and forth in my mind about
the possibilities of male and female performance, questioning the
meaning of gender in every scene. Sitting alone in a café
booth, Bree drinks her coffee, pointedly pointing her pinky straight
up at the ceiling as she takes delicate sips in her imagined feminized
way of being in the world. "Take that," the pinky seems
to be saying, "I'm not a gay man, I'm not a woman--I am an
And with that, we are imbued with some understanding of the turmoil
that transsexuals endure in their bodies. "How could they do
that to themselves!" we shriek, thinking of the drastic surgical
resort some take. TransAmerica calmly answers that question
in detail, turning it into the existential question we all ask ourselveswho