by SUZANNE SCHREINER & r & & r & Transamerica & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he week before her long-awaited sex change surgery, Bree Osbourne (formerly Stanley Shupak) is knocked sideways when a caller claims to be the son she didn't know she had. At her therapist's insistence, she bails him out of a New York jail; he's been working as a street prostitute. Seventeen-year-old Toby assumes she is a Christian missionary, there to put him on the straight and narrow, so Bree, played by Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman, tells him she's from the Church of the Potential Father. Toby has dreams of porn stardom; California beckons. The two embark on a cross-country road trip, Bree trying hard to dump Toby at every opportunity, even as she fights her growing sense of responsibility.
& r & This film has transgender details strewn across its landscape -- we learn, for example, that a "tracheal shave" surgery gets rid of the telltale Adam's apple -- but Transamerica is no dark and gritty "issue" film. At its heart, it's a road movie and a coming-of-age story -- for both Bree and Toby, but especially for Bree. Toby, abandoned and ill-used, cannot trust adults. After many stumbles (often comic), he realizes Bree is someone he can trust.
& r & In the audio commentary, writer and first-time director Duncan Tucker says the film is "about finding your own voice." In fact, in the very first scene, a voice coach gives pointers on changing the vocal register. Bree has been so bogged down in finding her voice, and so disappointed by others along the way, that she can't spare a jot of concern for anyone else. Comparing the road movie to the archetypal adventure quest, Tucker suggests that though Bree thinks her journey is directed toward becoming a woman, really it's about becoming a grownup.
& r & In their DVD commentaries, both Huffman and Kevin Zegers (Toby) say they didn't detect an issue film when they read the script. William Macy, executive producer of the film, called it "a sheep in wolf's clothing." Perhaps Transamerica is more "Frodo in a dress," as Tucker quips, than a transgender issue film for the ages. But as a road movie, where the characters meet friends and enemies along the way and come home different, Transamerica is a very good ride.