I watched some interesting films over the last week; one of them being Transamerica (WARNING: SPOILERS IN LINK), a story of a pre-op trans-sexual’s journey – across America and across the shadows of the past.
Transamerica is a beautifully told tale of Bree (Sabrina) who used to be Stanley. Having discovered early in life that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body, she’s saved and scrounged and arrived at the point where she has the money and the paperwork to go in for the final cut – literally – such that the last vestiges of Stanley are excised. Her therapist’s signature is what she needs to close the loop for good. Except she inadvertently mentions a phone call from a son she never knew she had in New York . To cut a long story short, the therapist insists she travel to New York, meet with the son and – presumably – gain some sort of closure before the operation.
How does Bree tell the teenaged gay hustler – Toby, her son – that the woman he thinks is a missionary is actually a man and his father? Does she tell him? How does Toby take it? What happens?
Toby wants to go to LA to become a porn-star – that’s up the ladder for a hustler – and so consents to drive from NY to LA in Bree’s car. The revelations are made – some voluntarily, some accidentally – on this journey. It is a wonderfully told tale, and Felicity Huffman carries it beautifully. She is controlled, measured, the epitome of the somewhat withdrawn but extremely proper lady in your neighbourhood. And it is this easy identification with someone all of us could have known that makes it work. The director never succumbs to the temptation of resorting to stereotypes, or of trying to take it a little over the top, or even of making it all seem a little exotic. It’s all very matter of fact. The restrained performances and direction are what make this film such a treat.
The director manages to cover a lot of ground – trans-sexuality, filial relationships, family, the treatment of the societal “outsider”, the inter-relationship between members of two ‘fringe’ groups, and their relationships with others – without at any time making the film preachy, pedantic or plodding. No mean achievement. It leaves you with a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of time well spent, and with – hopefully – a more accepting view of those who exist on the margins of our sanitised consciousness.
That brings me to my pet peeve – why is it that we can never make such films in India? Why is it that the adjectives “restrained” or “underplayed” do not exist in the collective Indian consciousness? OK, those were rhetorical questions, but feel free to answer them if you think you have some great insight.
As for me – tomorrow, I’m going to present my version of “If Transamerica Were Made in Bollywood”.