Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Thanks to this film, I’ve just expanded my list of “Susan Sarandon’s Mother Movies” again*—though as you might guess by the title, she’s also a grandmother. (Where have the years gone since 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil?). It too is enjoyable, though because the script is somewhat superficial, will probably not be one listed in a summation of her remarkable career. Her Dolly is a supporting character. The film’s original title was better attuned to its plot: About Ray, the 3rd generation member, daughter Ramona (Elle Fanning) who wants to enter a sex-change program.
Now calling herself Ray, she is eager to begin the series of injections before he/she enters a new high school so that he can begin as a boy and not be stigmatized by having to explain the process for making the change. However, because she/he is a teenager, the 2nd Generation character, Maggie (Naomi Watts) her mother, must give her consent.
Both mother and grandmother are confused by Ramona and express mixed feelings. Dolly herself bucked the system, coming out years ago to declare that she is a lesbian. Ever since she has been in a long-time relationship with Frances (Linda Emond). Single mother Maggie and Ray have lived in the 1st Generation’s large apartment for a long time. Dolly blurts out, “Why can’t she just be a lesbian?” Maggie’s response is simple, showing that she has accepted her birth-daughter’s decision, “She likes women.”
When Maggie at last feels she can sign the legal document she discovers that the signature of Ray’s father Craig (Tate Donavon) is also needed. Her trip to the suburbs to find him leads to the discovery that he has remarried and that he is not eager at all in signing. This of course leads to Ray, and then Dolly and Maggie, traveling to his home—and also a revelation concerning Maggie that is not at all to her credit.
Directed by Gaby Dellal, with Nikole Beckwith as her co-scriptwriter, the film is more amusing than enlightening about transgender people. I do not recall the term “transgender” ever being spoken by any of the characters! Ray travels about the city on his skateboard and is sometimes seen with other teenagers. I recall no hint of his being despised or bullied by “straight” peers, as one might presume. We might also have expected to have sought out the company of other kids regarded as “deviants,” but not so.
The so-so script is well offset by the excellent performances of Elle Fanning, as well as Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon. Also, the film is another good reminder of how diverse a form the family can take on today. (Unless we think about it, many of us of the older generations are still bound to the image of the ideal family as being male and female parents with a son and a daughter.) We have come a long way from the nuclear two-parent family of Father Knows Best. Back in the 50s gays were subject in the media to derisive humor and stereotyping. Now it is a lesbian that is depicted as expressing her confusion and frustration over a transgender granddaughter. We are in an age when the old Bible-based guidelines for gender roles are obsolete (and even possibly destructive), too culture-relevant to be of help—although, on the other hand, its two basic commandments are even more relevant than ever.
*See the article “Mothers—As Played by Susan Sarandon in the June 2016 VP.
This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.