Transgender identity is a topic which is given far greater discussion in the modern day as awareness and education is on a steady incline. However, Transamerica is a total of ten years old by this point which signifies a greater awareness of such issues from a much earlier times. Transamerica is quite an interesting experience. It is not a perfect film, but it delivers brilliant insight and a great story to reach out to its audiences. Through the respectful direction of Duncan Tucker, Transamerica becomes a gentle experience which restrains the notion of melodrama so that its material is restrained without being subtle. As a means of establishing this mood, Transamerica ends up being a rather slow film which has to stretch its material so that it can ultimately constitute a feature length running time, but the 103 minutes of the film certainly never overstay their welcome. There are moments that drag on, but the true extent of meaning in the material lays its grace down on the experience.
Rather than turning its characters into simplistic archetypes, the relevance of the characters in Transamerica comes from the fact that they are two people lost and alone in the world. Due to their own complicated lives, Sabrina "Bree" Osbourne and Toby Wilkins are brought together by strange circumstances and left to fend for themselves in the world. The slowly developing bond between the pair is unpredictable due to the psychology behind each of them, and it allows for a versatile range of conflicts to occur between the two which effectively centres the heart of the entire film has being on a compelling relationship with enough sentiment to touch audiences in one way or another.
As with any road trip film, there are some comic elements in Transamerica which lighten the mood and render the material more accessible to viewers thanks to a lighthearted nature. Among its touching sentiments are some good moments of humour, making Transamerica an insightful and funny experience. However, some of the other story elements reliant on the road trip formula as less complimenting to Transamerica. Transamerica has a story which develops its main characters well, but the plot points just come and go with limited lasting impact on the characters themselves. Viewers will find themselves so caught up in the characters that they will most likely forget about how all the main plot points in the story are reduced to minor subplots, but it is clear that the structure of Transamerica is far from the same brilliance as the subject matter. The character development in Transamerica is very effective, but the story structure does not match up to it with the same credibility.
Being an independent production, Transamerica cannot distract viewers with many big-name celebrities and a lavish spectacle. The leaves the genuine drama of the script to carry the film which it certainly does, but in the end, it's the cast that are left to touch the audiences. Anyone can tell you that it's the Academy Award nominated performance of Felicity Huffman that really carries the film. With her gender identity being a part of her psychology without dominating everything about herself as a person, Sabrina "Bree" Osbourne. It's a key source of much of her emotional issues, but she doesn't hit viewers over the head with this notion. The entire film is very much an effort for her to remain strong despite the fact that inside she is burdened by anxious uncertainties about her life, finding meaning in the relationship she develops with her son. Felicity Huffman's efforts to restrain her line delivery as a means of not coming off as overly feminine pays off in her characterization since her careful work on voice articulation helps to limit the emotional input of her chemistry with Kevin Zegers, projecting a sense of complicated distance between the characters they play. The transgender identity of Bree Osbourne is very much internal for the character, and Felicity Huffman realizes this enough to deliver a restrained performance which depicts a clear internal struggle through small traits of her surface attitude. Felicity Huffman's performance is a beautiful product of subtlety with occasionally bursts of gripping emotion.
Kevin Zegers also makes a strong effort. Kevin Zegers finds realism in his role because instead of relying heavily on angst-ridden teenage cliches to anchor the loneliness of his character, he takes the role on with real heart and dedication. Toby Wilkins is as confused about existence as Bree Osbourne, and his refusal to reveal the full extent of his emotional side separates audiences from him. Yet over the course of the story we see small elements of him addressing the true side of himself that he has tried to hide from the world. Toby Wilkins is a very sympathetic character whose angst nature is far deeper than the archetype would usually allow.
As a huge fan of Burt Young's career in the first six Rocky films, I was gleeful at the sight of him in Transamerica. His supporting role is a small one where the majority of his role requires him to remain silent in the face of the transphobic rants of his wife, and he maintains this with a solemn grace. The wife in question is portrayed by Fionnula Flanagan who carries the stereotypical maternal nature of a mother contrasted by a bigoted attitude, carrying a pompous nature and intense chemistry with Felicity Huffman.
And Graham Greene also carries a really friendly nature which enlightens the mood of the experience amid all its drama, being the single friendly presence in the lost world of the characters. Graham Greene's naturally likable nature eases the mood of things and puts a sense of optimism into such a bleak tale.
Transamerica is a rich and fulfilling comedy-drama which capitalizes on its highly relevant subject matter through its frank realism and an incredible performance by Felicity Huffman, even if it is slightly stumped by the inconsistent story development of its conventional narrative structure and slow pace.