Finally got around to watching Transamerica, which I've had out from Netflix for months. I kept thinking I might see it with various other people at various times, and I was also a little hesitant because I had heard that some trans people had had some concerns about it. But finally decided to sit down and watch it tonight.

It turned out to be, imo, a fun and largely pretty good movie. I had plenty of issues with it myself, but by around two-thirds of the way through, it had pretty much won me over. I particularly loved the scenes with Graham Greene, who's totally charming.

And Felicity Huffman is good in the lead role, and Kevin Zegers is the hottest hustler on film since River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho. (Someday I should watch that again to see if it's really as good as I remember it being.) And I liked the Transamerica soundtrack. (Link is to the Amazon MP3 download page, 'cause iTunes has only a partial album; among several songs iTunes is missing from the album is Dolly Parton's Oscar-nominated song "Travelin' Thru." . . . The full MP3 album is also available, slightly cheaper than Amazon, from Rhapsody.)

The movie relies a little too much on humor-of-embarrassment for me to be entirely happy with it. And of course it would have been nice to have an actual transwoman in the lead role. And there are plausibility and accuracy issues--the biggest ones I noticed were that the therapist's approach at the beginning (which sets the plot in motion) seemed kinda contrived to me, and that I would expect a New York City hustler to be a lot more familiar with transsexuals than Toby is, but there were also other issues that I didn't pick up on as much, such as the ones discussed in detail in an Advocate review by Rachel C. Thompson.

On the other hand, the director and Huffman have noted that they were making a movie about a particular character, not meant to represent all transwomen; and I think (as Thompson more or less concludes too) that the good stuff outweighs the bad in this movie. And I'm glad to see that the movie got a certain amount of support and vetting from Calpernia Addams and Andrea James of Deep Stealth Productions, "a company dedicated to offering more accurate and positive portrayals of transgender people in the media" (as a Rainbow Network interview about Transamerica describes them).

So . . . it's not the perfect trans movie. But it's way better than most; a good step (imo) in the right direction. And regardless of political issues, also a pretty good movie; not brilliant, but worth seeing.

3 Responses to “Transamerica”

  1. Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan

    I’ve not seen it, but if Calpernia and Andrea say its OK that’s a pretty good recommendation.

    The trouble with transpeople is that they are so diverse that any story about one of them, even if very accurate for that person, may be seen as completely off-base by others. Add that to the inevitable desire of the writer to create drama from the fact that one of the characters is trans, thereby sensationalizing the issue, and you quickly come to the conclusion that a “perfect trans movie” just isn’t going to happen.

    Personally I’m not interested in seeing more movies (or indeed books) that are “about” trans people. I want to see stories that happen to feature trans people, but where their trans nature is not the focal point of the story, and preferably isn’t a source of drama at all. Only then will people start to see trans folk as a normal part of society and not something freakish. Which is why I like Brasyl so much, of course.

  2. Anonymous

    I should clarify my earlier remarks: Addams and James didn’t officially give it their seal of approval or anything, but they did provide some feedback on the script, at least some of which resulted in changes. And they’re in the movie, too.

    Agreed re trans diversity and accuracy. I think my preferred answer to that problem, as with representations of other underrepresented people, is to have more trans people in movies (or books, or whatever), so that each one of them doesn’t have to bear the burden of apparently representing a vast array of diverse people.

    I want to see stories that happen to feature trans people, but where their trans nature is not the focal point of the story, and preferably isn’t a source of drama at all. Yeah, definitely. (One thing I liked about the Graham Greene scenes in Transamerica is that the protagonist’s transness is–more or less–temporarily not a source of drama. …Though that’s a more complex issue than I’m making it sound like.) I think we’re very slowly getting there with queer people (though still a long way to go), and I think representations of trans people are maybe ten to twenty years behind on a similar curve. We had a period of “gay people are good people but tragic victims” representations, and a period of “gay guys are great and funny and snarky and good dressers, but never do anything remotely sexual”; I think maybe we’re moving slowly out of that Will & Grace/Queer Eye period for queer characters, but I think trans characters in mainstream media are still back somewhere around the beginning of an analogous period.

    But I’m talking through my hat–I may be way offbase here.

  3. Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan

    More trans people in books and movies would definitely be good, but still if you only have one in each story they’ll look like they are supposed to stand for all trans people. And even if you have several, that doesn’t mean that the writer won’t use this as an excuse to distinguish between “good” and “bad” trans people. Look at Ilario for example.


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