TRANSAMERICA directed by Duncan Tucker (USA, 2005)

This is the only film I’ve seen of a woman pretending to be a man who wants to be a woman.

Transamerica is an issue movie but aims at subtle persuasion rather than tubthumping polemic.

You would imagine a film about a transsexual to be more about sex but it makes the valid point that switching gender is as much about identity as getting laid.

Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman is quite superb in the part of Stanley / Sabrina (Bree). She oozes femininity yet looks genuinely mannish and uncomfortable in her skin.

It’s easy to imagine someone undertaking a sex change would be brash and sexually forthright but Bree is actually quite straight-laced and prim. There’s a hint of romance with a chivalrous Mexican man but the raunchiest scenes are reserved for the son (s)he didn’t know existed.

Kevin Zegers’ role of Toby reminded me of River Phoenix in My Private Idaho but as an actor he’s not in the same league. Toby is a rent boy who gets a part in a porn film as a stepping stone to ‘real’ movies.

In real life. Felicity Huffman is all woman.

In real life. Felicity Huffman is all woman.

There are some funny exchanges like a psychiatrist asking Bree what he thought of his penis. “I hate it” comes the predictable answer. “What do you friends think?” pursues the shrink. “They hate it too!” comes the reply.

I once worked with a man (Stephen) who became a woman (Sarah) and I recognised the way general tolerance is mixed with a genuine curiosity (and squeamishness) about how the physical process of changing gender.

Stanley / Sabrina (Bree) is a brilliant character study but this film loses its way is in trying to make it into an offbeat buddy movie. There is, quite simply, not enough in the plot to hold the attention and the dysfunctional father-son relationship is never wholly convincing.

It’s a light and likeable movie but changing gender is no joke and the focus on gentle comedy prevents a much grittier drama from emerging.