The Moment When You Can Bear No More
I believe that everyone has some aspect of themselves which they choose not to share with anyone. Sometimes, it is because they can't even bear to be honest with themselves. They have a secret, and often, they believe that the secret, once revealed, will make everyone hate them. This is not always true. This is not even often true; often, those secrets are common to the point of not even being a little surprising. Sometimes, it really is shocking, but only very seldom do those we love actually reject us for our secrets. This is one of those occasions; it really is, given the ages and locations of everyone concerned, something so secret that a man could not even reveal it to himself. It must be such a relief to be living in a time when it's a little more okay than it would have been when the main characters were young. However, even today, this is a secret that eats at most of the people who hold it.
Roy (Tom Wilkinson) and Irma (Jessica Lange) Applewood are celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Their family, friends, and pastor are all there. And in the middle of it, Roy collapses. His medical tests all come back okay, but he's come to a decision about something. Namely, that he can't keep his secret anymore. His specific secret is that he feels that he has been born into the wrong body. He no longer wants to be Roy. He wants to go through the transition to becoming a woman. His daughter, Patty Ann (Hayden Panettiere, who turns twenty-three today), is supportive, comparing her father's reaction to his hormone shots to her own puberty. His son, Wayne (Joseph Sikora), is less supportive. Naturally, Irma is incredibly conflicted about the whole thing. She wants her husband, not a wife. And their pastor (Randall Arney) is not merely conservative but inclined to blame the whole thing on Irma, if he can't figure out another cause.
Tom Wilkinson, as I knew when I checked this out, does not make a pretty woman. I suspect he wouldn't have even when he was young. Irma says that Roy as Ruth looks the way Irma's aunt did after a stroke, and it's certainly apparent that Roy wasn't paying all that much attention to how Irma dressed all those years. In general, I think Roy was paying more attention to himself than anyone else. However, I don't have a problem with that from a story perspective. Tom Wilkinson declined to do any research in preparation for his part on the grounds that Roy didn't know anything about it until he was in the middle of it, either. He doesn't know a lot about fashion, and he doesn't know much of anything about makeup. He is, frankly, an ugly woman. He's not doing this because he is what we think of as a society when we think of a woman trapped in a man's body. It is because he is what one is actually like. The stereotype doesn't define everyone, and it's foolish to suggest that it does.
Everything is coming as a surprise to the entire Applewood family. Patty Anne wants what's best for her father, because she hasn't really considered the perspective of her mother. Wayne has, and despite traveling with a band, he's got a deeply conservative streak. He's uncomfortable with what is going on--almost more so than his mother, even at her least comfortable. The pastor is more concerned with his own interpretation of things than with what his parishioner is actually going through. I mean, Irma is having enough problems without being accused of warping her husband into sin. That may be the last straw for her. She isn't sure but that it isn't a sin herself, but she knows she did everything right, or as right as she can. The implication that her doing the taxes caused her husband to decide that he was really a woman is a ridiculous woman, and she knows it. If nothing else, Irma is a proud woman, and she is not going to be spoken to that way by someone young enough to be her son.
Of course, this movie is not going to convince anyone of anything. This kind of thing seldom does. You have to be the right kind of person to watch a made-for-HBO movie about a middle-aged man who suddenly announces that he's a woman trapped in a man's body, and that kind of person already believes that there's nothing wrong with that. (Actually, there's an interesting piece on the subject over at the Straight Dope at the moment that's worth checking out.) If you agree with Wayne, or with Reverend Dale Muncie, or with any of the other characters along those lines, you're not going to be convinced by even the best performance Tom Wilkinson ever made. (And this isn't it; this isn't the best performance of either of its stars, though they're both quite good.) On the other hand, I think enough things like this change the culture as a whole enough so that fewer people like Roy Applewood end up with guns in their mouths, hating everything about themselves.