Presto Chango

Magic, motherhood and gender morphology in Breakfast on Pluto and Transamerica

By Ella Taylor

That Huffman triumphs over all this Home for the Holidays rubbish is a tribute to the uncommon delicacy with which she approaches a role that, in most movies of this kind, would be mugged to death by a Robin Williams or a Jim Carrey. A stuffy conservative whose taste for the exotic is limited to her erudite knowledge of anthropology, Bree is forever twitching prudishly at her pancake makeup and pastel librarian outfits—not for nothing does her son take her for a Christian missionary—her voice teetering uncertainly between high and low as she defends herself with the wry wit, tinged with a quiet hysteria, of one who's been keeping up appearances for far too long. It's an intensely physical performance, but for all the situation comedy that's thrown in her path, Huffman never overplays her hand. She's not playing a gay man, a transvestite or a transsexual; notwithstanding some farcical business with a prosthetic penis and an amorous lunge from an inappropriate source, Transamerica is about as sexual as The Brady Bunch. It's about an intelligent woman in excruciating transition to a new body that will line up with an identity she's held all along. Like Breakfast on Pluto, Transamerica is about loneliness and the hunger for family, and like Jordan and McCabe, Tucker climbs onboard for the romantic notion of gender elasticity as an expression of the authentic self. If that's a cop-out, it's one Huffman makes us believe in. Never in a million years would this fully fledged woman, housed in the wrong body, agree to be called Kitten.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO WAS DIRECTED BY NEIL JORDAN; WRITTEN BY JORDAN AND PATRICK McCABE, BASED ON McCABE'S NOVEL; PRODUCED BY ALAN MOLONEY, JORDAN AND STEPHEN WOOLLEY. NOW PLAYING AT LAEMMLE'S SUNSET 5 IN HOLLYWOOD AND MONICA 4 IN SANTA MONICA. NO OC RELEASE DATE/LOCATION CONFIRMED AT PRESS TIME.

TRANSAMERICA WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY DUNCAN TUCKER; PRODUCED BY LINDA MORAN, RENE BASTIAN AND SEBASTIAN DUNGAN. NOW PLAYING AT LAEMMLE SUNSET 5, HOLLYWOOD. SCHEDULED TO OPEN AT SELECT OC THEATERS ON DEC. 23.

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