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Family Bonding, with Hormones

Road trips have a magical quality. They can bring you closer to your carmate or want to rip their heads off. Either way, it's usually a memorable bonding experience full of bad motel rooms, yelling matches, and greasy rest stop food. There have been many movies about friends or families taking wild road trips. But the funny and stirring Transamerica is no ordinary cross-country adventure.

Conservative and quiet, Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman) is about to have one of her biggest dreams come true. She's finally going to be able to become a fully realized female; she is pre-op male-to- female transsexual. However a week before her sexual reassignment surgery, she gets a phone call telling her that her son is in jail in NY. Needless to say, her well-laid out plans go awry.

When she reluctantly informs her psychologist and friend Margaret (Elizabeth Peņa) of her discovery -- that she may have fathered an illegitimate son back when she was living as a man by the name of Stanley -- Margaret puts a hold on her surgery until Bree deals with this unexpected issue. Distraught, she flies to New York and bails her long lost delinquent son, Toby (Kevin Zegers), out of the slammer.

Toby assumes that Bree is a missionary with a church that works with errant street youth; she lets him believe that, choosing to keep the fact that she once was, and technically still is, a man, who also happens to be his father, a secret. Soon, the two find themselves in a station wagon heading west on an epic road trip that includes hitting up Toby's stepfather, attending a tranny party in Texas, picking up a hitchhiker, getting taken in by a total stranger and having a nice little visit with Bree's parents.

But, while Transamerica has quite a few humorous moments, this is no slapstick road trip flick full of gags and over-the-top shenanigans. It has a serious emotional core, which explores a woman both trying to grapple with a son she never knew existed and deal with her own gender and body issues. Indeed, it would be easier if Toby could just disappear for every time Bree looks at him, she is reminded of her life as a man, a source of great discomfort and embarrassment. And although it's funny to see her pretend she's a Christian missionary, it is more difficult to see her lying to her son about her real role in his life and that she is, in fact, a transsexual.

Bree is inhibited. She sees herself as a woman but still has to deal with the one thing that makes her a man. And, yes, there are certain...prosthetics involved. The one thing she wants more than anything, her surgery, is just out of her reach. As a result, she is obviously still not comfortable in her skin, which Huffman demonstrates perfectly through body language.

Huffman, best known for her role in "Desperate Housewives", is absolutely amazing as Bree/Stan. She doesn't approach the role as a woman but rather as a man who wants to a woman. She is very feminine, but it's a manner that seems to be rehearsed. At first Bree's deep tenor can be a little distracting but you soon get used it. Huffman must have strained herself during the movie trying to get her voice that deep.

It should be noted that Fionnula Flanagan as Bree/Stan's overwrought mother is a total scene-stealer. She is perfect. She invokes humor, pity and rage in viewers all at the same time. The beautiful Kevin Zegers also gives a standout performance. Toby is a cynic and a dreamer all at the same time and Zegers really brings that across.

Writer/director Duncan Tucker does an outstanding job in bringing this unique and touching story to the screen. He focuses not simply on Bree's sexuality but also on her relationship with her son. In Transamerica family surpasses transsexuality. The film's appeal is universal whether you are interested in transsexual/queer issues or not.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars