Sunday, January 29, 2006

She's a lady ... whoa, whoa, whoa ... she's a lady: "Transamerica"

I love her to death, but Felicity Huffman isn't all that feminine.

This isn't a bad thing, mind you. Hey, we all like the tomboy at one time or another, and way before her corporate mommy thing in "Desperate Housewives," Huffman was cute, albeit quirky, as the high-strung producer in "Sports Night" (also starring a pre-"Six Feet Under" Peter Krause; check it out). So I've had a soft spot for her for a while, and she's definitely one of the more tolerable housewives. Seriously, what is the big deal with Eva Longoria? She's kind of sexy, I guess, but so annoying it kind of cancels everything out.

Now Huffman is getting some Oscar buzz for her performance as an L.A. man undergoing a sex change who discovers he/she has a teenage son from a long-ago fling. Yow, talk about bad timing. She gives in to her therapist's suggestion to bail the boy out of an NYC jail, which leads to a cross-country road trip in which Huffman's character delays telling his/her son about who he/she is for as long as possible. Being this is a road trip, though, you guessed it ... hijinks ensue.

So we're left with kind of a weird mix of a movie, and it turns out to be rather uneven. Huffman seems to have the transgendered stuff down, and the kid, Kevin Zegers, also is good, managing the sullen and smart-ass routine well. A lot of their interaction is believable, and it's helped by some decent supporting players, such as Graham Greene as a helpful Indian in New Mexico and Burt Young -- yo, Paulie! -- as Huffman's dad in Phoenix.

Alas, there are a couple of problems. First, as much as they try with the makeup, it's really hard to forget Huffman actually is a woman. She does all she can, but I wonder if the movie would have worked better with a guy in the role. Hard to say, and like I said, Huffman is a better choice than more girlie-girl actresses; Jennifer Anniston ain't pulling this off. That's a minor thing, though.

A bigger issue is the script, which has some rather implausible scenes, even for a movie about a transgendered person road-tripping with a teenager. A couple of these involve scenes with those two, and a couple ask us to forget what happened in other scenes. I'm not talking plot development as much as mood. Some scenes are funny, some are sad, and I'm not sure they fit together well. For instance, it's sad that Zegers is a hustler who falls back on trading sex for money or favors when things go bad. Yet we're supposed to laugh at him starring in a gay porno named "Cowabunghole?" Sure, that's funny -- if I'm not king of bad puns, I'm in the royal family -- but I'm not sure it's appropriate.

Perhaps I'm being too uptight. "Transamerica" does have a lot of good things, and Huffman deserves the Oscar nomination she'll probably get. (We also love her husband, Bill Macy.) Still, I always come back to my pal Justin's rule for rating movies: If you see penis, it's an automatic one-star deduction. Note: "Boogie Nights" doesn't count because that wasn't Marky Mark's real unit. Yeah ... sorry, ladies.


At 12:26 PM, Blogger chris carmody said...

Yes, I could have gone without the "johnson" shot in the movie. I mean we all knew she was a guy...right?


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