(In theaters, February 2006) The rather silly quest to see every single Oscar-nominated film of the year can lead to some unusual situations, and so that’s how I found myself, five minutes into Transamerica, wondering if I’d ever make it to the end of the film. Felicia Huffman may turn in a fabulous performance as a pre-op transsexual (a woman playing a man playing a woman, to be crude about it), but her character starts out as one of the most pitiful and unlikable character of the year. Things don’t really start getting any better as we meet her son, a small time junkie teen prostitute whom she takes on a road trip from New York to California. Uncomfortable situations follow one another in picaresque fashion mixed with a strong blend of low-budget griminess. Fortunately, the movie started to work just as I was contemplating the EXIT sign with some interest. The protagonist finally exhibits a few likable qualities and the humour emerges to the forefront. By the end of the film, starting from its dysfunctional-family third act, it’s easy to feel a rough sympathy for all characters. The film redeems itself right before the credits, leaving us with a positive impression despite the early rough going. Not a transcendentally moving film, but it eventually comes together: I’m glad I stayed for the entire thing.
(Second viewing, On DVD, August 2007) I almost hated this film in theatres, but I must say that it plays a lot better on DVD. Knowing where the story is going frees up the comedic elements of the film, and the director’s commentary is truly interesting to hear as it details the ways a low-budget film is made, and what elements went into the conception of the film. This hasn’t suddenly sprung up to the top of any of my lists, but I now carry a much fonder impression of it than before.