In the 1999 film, “Boys Don’t Cry,” Hilary Swank won an Oscar for playing a woman who pretends to be a man.
Felicity Huffman has it harder.
For “Transamerica,” the actress portrays a man who behaves like a woman as she heads toward a sex-change operation.
It’s a difficult role. You never once disbelieve that she is a man beneath her church lady affectations. Huffman’s brilliance holds “Transamerica” together, bringing a light comedic touch to what is a highly disturbing story.
Huffman as Sabrina “Bree” (who was once Stanley) Osbourne receives an ultimatum from her therapist, Margaret (Elizabeth Pena), that she must reconcile with her teenage street hustler son, Toby (Kevin Zeger), before surgery is approved. The two have never met. In fact, Margaret believed that Bree was virgin until she mentions a one-night stand with a woman in college (“The whole thing was so tragically lesbian that I didn’t think it counted”) which resulted in Toby.
Posing as a Christian caseworker, Bree bails the boy out of a New York prison, where he was busted for drugs. From there, it’s a cross-country drive back to Los Angeles, where Toby is happy to go in his search for porno stardom. Doggedly maintaining his prime and proper ladylike façade throughout the journey, Bree does not reveal that he’s Toby’s father, even after the 17-year-old spots his male genitals. This stubbornness causes near hysteria when Toby is introduced to Bree’s parents (Fionnula Flanagan and Burt Young) and adult sister (Carrie Preston) in Phoenix. After surviving the shock of seeing their long-lost, soon-to-be-transsexual, the parents are elated to learn that they are grandparents. But Bree insists on keeping their biological connection to the boy a secret, though Toby knows something weird is afoot.
The homecoming scenes are very funny until Toby decides to show his appreciation for Bree with a sexual overture. This forces cards to come out as Toby wrestles with the mind-blowing revelation. It’s been a tough week for the teen. First, to find out his rescuer is a cross-dressing transsexual-in-waiting and then to learn the “freak” is his father. Amazingly enough, the movie has a happy ending.
“Transamerica” is a movie not to be missed in a year filled with groundbreakers about gay or alternative life styles (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote”). It also shows that Huffman can do far more than be a “Desperate Housewife.”