Went to see Transamerica today. We saw it at the giant 24-screen Regal Cinemas megaplex down in Chamblee. It's sort of new. Driving north on Interstate 85, we've passed by it a few times, on each occasion marvelling at how repugnant pink and purple neon is (which this theater has in spades), and how much I prefer AMC to Regal. Regal, after all, was the first theater corporation (as far as I know) to show a 20-30 minute reel of commercials masquerading as "behind the scenes" info-tainment before the previews even begin. Regal calls it "The Twenty" which is the theater version of televisions hanging in every corner of a restaurant: something to relieve us poor humans of the burden of conversation. So those casual discussions you used to have before the movie started with the people that brung you, are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. I know. I don't appreciate anything until it's gone, either. AMC used to be superior in this respect, kow-towing in a smaller way to their bottomline by showing a relatively unobtrusive slide show of ads and "trivia". Slightly annoying, but quiet at least. But now AMC has their own thing. I don't know what it's called, but it's as abhorrent as Regal's "The Twenty".
And another thing: though both AMC and Regal have cupholders built into their armrests, AMC's armrest-cupholders seem to jut further out, allowing at least part of the seated moviegoer's arm to actually rest on the armrest. At Regal, the cupholders are much closer to the seated moviegoer's arms, making it impossible to rest any part of the arm on the armrest. If you force the issue and use the armest as it was intended, then you start to lose feeling in your hand because your wrist is pressed uncomfortably by the force of its own weight into the thin plastic rim of the cupholder. I think that sucks. I had to tuck my elbows between the armrests and fold them awkwardly across my lap for most of the movie. I do concede that some part of my trouble with the armrests stems from my having giant monkey arms, but surely I'm not the only one.
But anyway, enough of that. Transamerica. While watching this movie I thought about how structurally boring and lazy road movies can be. I know it's possible to make good road movies (Dumb and Dumber, Grapes of Wrath, Easy Rider supposedly), but writing a road movie in the first place seems like a lazy undertaking from a screenwriting point of view. It's so easy to just inject a new character or a new place into the story to give it a little narrative juice, that by the time the credits roll, they almost always feel kind of cheap and weightless. In a lot of ways, Transamerica felt like one of these good-effort road movies, but even with the interesting characters and the issues of "transgendered" people interacting with the rest of the world, the movie seems by-the-numbers and without dramatic weight. I walked out of the theater feeling a little like I hadn't actually seen anything. The performances are mostly believable. Felicity Huffman manages to pull off playing a male character trying to pass as a woman. She wears a prosthetic penis for a couple of scenes, and though this seems admirable and "brave" for an actress who's not classically pretty to do, it kind of adds to the stunt-like quality of the performance. It's hard to forget while watching Transamerica (which was released by the original Oscar-whores, the Weinsteins) that Huffman, like Theron before her playing a rough-looking lesbian serial killer, or Hillary Swank before them both, playing a lesbian trying to pass as a boy, that these actresses are all hunting for Oscar. I wonder: if there was no such thing as the Academy Awards, which is itself a strange and arbitrary singling out of films and performances as "Best" every year, would we still see this peculiar sub-niche of indie movies that revolve around a bravura, appearance-altering performance from some comely actress? I kind of doubt it. But I also don't mean to suggest Transamerica is a bad movie. It's not boring, and it never shifts off-tone, but because not much was risked narratively, I don't think much was gained either.
Before I go, I wanted to direct your attentions to a blog freshly inaugurated by my good friend from Massachusettes, Mike Moran, (SOF class of '01). It's only got one post so far, but Mike's got a unique and interesting (some might say slightly cynical) viewpoint, so I'm looking forward to his posts. Here's the link to MORANADU! More tomorrow.