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3 items from 2005

Interview: Duncan Tucker

6 December 2005 | ioncinema | See recent ioncinema news »

- From East to West, from father to mother, from man to woman, from prostitute to porn star - these are just some of the many transformations that take place in Transamerica. This road movie peers into the life a transsexual woman in the final stages of her change into a full bodied woman. Right before she gets her final surgery, she finds out she fathered a child some years back and now she must make amends with her past before she can complete her transformation. Bree is a hard worker who has been saving for a surgical operation that will give her the body of a woman. After years of taking hormones, this final operation will complete her. Right before her psychologist gives her legal consent, Bree finds out that she fathered a young boy, Toby, about to be released from jail, and Bree’s doctor holds the consent »

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15 September 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

On the big screen, "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman often has been relegated to the supporting category of friend/sister/neighbor. With the poignant and often deliriously funny road-trip feature "Transamerica", she steps into the challenging lead role of a solitary, preoperative transsexual and delivers an extraordinary portrait. The film marks an auspicious debut for writer-director Duncan Tucker, whose fresh, character-driven story-telling should make this December release from the Weinstein Co. an art house favorite.

Whatever it says about the zeitgeist, the theme of unexpected fatherhood has informed the work of a number of filmmakers this year, among them Jim Jarmusch ("Broken Flowers"), Wim Wenders ("Don't Come Knocking") and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne ("L'Enfant"). In this case, the reluctant but curious dad who learns he has a son happens to be a woman in tasteful pastels. The transgender spin avoids gimmickry thanks to Tucker's deft touch and the subtle work of Huffman and the rest of the pitch-perfect cast, especially Kevin Zegers as the lost-and-found offspring.

Gender politics is an element of the film but by no means its subject. Tucker's concerns are loneliness, emotional honesty and the simple need for human kindness. Bree, nee Stanley (Huffman), is self-contained in her little Los Angeles bungalow, and her closest friend is her compassionate therapist, Margaret (Elizabeth Pena). A week before the ultimate surgical step in her gender transformation, she receives a phone call from a 17-year-old New York inmate who claims to be Stanley's son. Single-minded in her countdown to the operating room, Bree dismisses the unwanted disruption, but Margaret refuses to OK the medical procedure until Bree goes to New York to address the matter.

Bree bails out the brooding Toby (Zegers) but hasn't the nerve to divulge why she's there and plays along when he assumes she's a church missionary. A photograph confirms that the boy, a good-looking street hustler who ran away from home after his mother died, is the product of a college coupling, and a sense of responsibility takes hold of Bree. Instead of flying home, she buys a chartreuse station wagon to drive Toby cross-country to Los Angeles, where he expects to find his father living large and hopes to break into movies -- of the San Fernando Valley sort.

Bree maintains her "deep stealth" (living as a genetic female), keeping two secrets from Toby -- her biological history and his. She's a fascinating character, and Huffman brilliantly embodies the complex layers of self-awareness and denial in this prim yet gutsy individual, who each day must paint on a face and put on a voice to become more truly herself. Self-consciousness is a constant, as the film powerfully demonstrates when a child's innocent but discerning question plunges Bree into despair.

As a boy who considers sex his chief talent, Zegers (of the "Air Bud" films and last year's "Dawn of the Dead" remake) conveys Toby's essential sweetness and hunger for real affection, making him much more than just a vain or damaged kid.

Instead of settling into quirky odd-couple shtick, the film is full of unexpected turns, with every character the duo encounters surprising and well observed, from a free-spirited hitcher (Grant Monohon) to a New Mexico rancher (Graham Greene) who gallantly comes to Bree's assistance, more than a bit smitten.

Tucker's astute script and direction weave laugh-out-loud humor into his characters' longing for acceptance, particularly when their journey takes them to the Phoenix McMansion of Bree's family -- whose kitsch collectibles, part of Mark White's excellent production design, supply one of the funniest moments in the film. You don't have to be a transsexual to understand the way Bree's parents (Fionnula Flanagan and Burt Young) and sister (Carrie Preston) feed her self-doubt. But even the wonderful Flanagan's turquoise-bedecked, monstrously materialistic Elizabeth is afforded her humanity because Duncan lets emotions unfold instead of merely scoring points and moving on.

David Mansfield's Americana-tinged score underlines the optimism and the plaintiveness of a journey that's memorably captured in director of photography Stephen Kazmierski's sensitive camerawork.


The Weinstein Co.

Belladonna Prods. production


Screenwriter-director: Duncan Tucker

Producers: Linda Moran, Rene Bastian, Sebastian Dungan

Executive producer: William H. Macy

Director of photography: Stephen Kazmierski

Production designer: Mark White

Music: David Mansfield

Costume designer: Danny Glicker

Editor: Pam Wise


Bree: Felicity Huffman

Toby: Kevin Zegers

Elizabeth: Fionnula Flanagan

Margaret: Elizabeth Pena

Calvin: Graham Greene

Murray: Burt Young

Sydney: Carrie Preston

Arletty: Venida Evans

Hitchhiker: Grant Monohon

Running time -- 103 minutes

No MPAA rating »

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IFC partners in 'Transamerica'

18 August 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

IFC Films will share the weight of distributing Duncan Tucker's controversial film Transamerica with the Weinstein Co. The two companies will co-distribute the film domestically, with IFC being responsible for theater bookings and the Weinstein Co. handling the marketing and print costs of the film. Starring Felicity Huffman, Transamerica bowed at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, where Huffman won an acting award. It centers on Bree (Huffman), a born-again Christian and a preoperative male-to-female transsexual, who flies to New York after she discovers she has a son from an unlikely encounter. The Weinstein Co. acquired the film shortly after the festival. "When the opportunity came along to partner with Bob and Harvey Weinstein on 'Transamerica, ' we jumped at the chance," IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring said. »

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