Review: 3 Generations

Elle Fanning in 3 Generations

For all the problems and rebranding involved in bringing 3 Generations to the screen, I expected it to be a mess. It was actually quite good. The emotions were real and alive. The performances were excellent.

The film went from the title About Ray with the tagline “A family in transition” to 3 Generations with the tagline “In this family change is relative.” New imaging, new posters, same story as before.

Elle Fanning stars as Ray, a 16 year old trans boy. He’s sure of his gender and has been since he was 4. It’s the people around him who have problems adjusting.

Ray lives with his mom Maggie (Naomi Watts), his grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) and her partner Frances (Linda Emond). They struggle with who they think Ray is, who they want him to be, who they thought he was. They say a lot of stupid things, get the pronouns wrong, call him by the wrong name. I completely identify with them as they muddle through.

Ray wants to start the next school year in a new school where he will be  male from day one. He wants to take testosterone. He wants to feel normal.

Ray is rock solid about who he is. But he’s in a hurry to get things changed before the next school year starts. The people around him are not dealing quickly enough with what he needs.

Because he’s a minor, his father has to sign the paperwork for Ray to get the testosterone. His mother cannot do it alone. On his birth certificate his father is listed as Craig Walker (Tate Donovan). Craig hasn’t seen Ray for many years. He now has a wife and 3 kids. He knows nothing about Ray’s transition.

Maggie reluctantly finds Craig and asks him to sign the paperwork. He wants more information. Their relationship is tense and awkward and Maggie leaves without a signature.

Later Ray goes there himself asking for the signature. He learns he has three half-siblings. And he learns that Craig’s brother Matthew Walker (Sam Trammell) might actually be his father. All the drama and arguments around Maggie and her past indiscretions make Ray feel he’ll never get the papers signed or get the testosterone treatments. He freaks out.

Elle Fanning in 3 Generations

The best part of 3 Generations for me was the video diary Ray kept of his transition. It was revealing, honest, raw and full of truth. Ray’s own story as he told it was moving and beautiful.

With so many excellent actors in the cast, you would expect the performances to be outstanding and they were. Elle Fanning is not trans, which is the only quibble I have. Even so, I found Fanning’s performance as a pre-testosterone trans male convincing.

Even without hormone treatments or surgery, Ray is male. As Maura said in season 3 of Transparent when she realized she couldn’t have surgery and couldn’t take hormones, “I’ve already transitioned. I’m trans. This is me.” The same thing applies to Ray. Elle Fanning, with smooth cheeks and a girlish voice, is exactly what Ray would be like before hormone treatments. This is him.

Ideally, if you have a child telling you from the age of 4 what they’ve been misgendered, hormone treatments would start before puberty. Naomi Watts has played the mother of a transgender child here and in Gypsy. In both stories, her support for the transition was not 100% of what it should be. Maybe if Naomi Watts gets a third chance to play the mother of a transgender child, she’ll finally get to set an example of 100% right.

I think there are a lot of parents and grandparents out there who are trying to get it right, but are less than 100% at it. As Jill Soloway says about Transparent, when one person in a family transitions, the whole family transitions. It can be a bumpy ride for some.

3 Generations was directed by Gaby Dellal and written by Gaby Dellal and Nikole Beckwith. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

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