3 GENERATIONS is a movie about transitioning, but it isn't a movie about a transgender teen. It showcases how hard it is on a family — the two older generations — when their child and grandchild is trans. This uninspiring film, starring Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, and Susan Sarandon, struggles to find what it wants to say, probably because it doesn't even know what to call itself.
The movie was first titled 3 GENERATIONS, then changed its name to ABOUT RAY, and is now 3 GENERATIONS again. To be fair, ABOUT RAY isn't a good title because the film isn't actually about Ray. Director Gaby Dellal has been criticized for trivializing transgender topics and for misgendering the film's protagonist in interviews. But, even without the controversy surrounding Dellal, the movie would still be bad.
Fanning plays Ray, a 16-year-old trans boy trying to start testosterone treatment, who has identified as a boy for about seven years. Despite this, his "old school lesbian" grandma, Honey (Sarandon) only uses she/her pronouns for him, and his well-intentioned mom Maggie (Watts) randomly misgenders him throughout the movie.
Honey is the most offensive, but also the most intentionally likable. When Ray accuses her of being "pretty judgmental for a lesbian," she responds with, "Having sex with women doesn't mean you're open-minded. It just means you're happy." She thinks Ray should stay 'Ramona' and just be gay, but finally comes around right before her grandson starts hormone treatment. While blunt, at least Honey is a real, multidimensional person.
The forced emotion from Fanning and Watts, though, are where most of the film's issues lie. Ray does have a few nice moments, but there are more that come off as either bland, or over-the-top. In ten minutes, he goes from being apathetic, to shrieking and jumping up and down on the bed in slow motion, a fault that should be credited to the directing and editing. There aren't subtle transitions of character development, just jarring ones, and the only convincing display of emotion from Ray is crying from happiness — which Fanning has mastered quite well.
Maggie, on the other hand, is so disingenuous I don't even believe her when she says she doesn't like coconut milk ice cream. While attempting to show the wide range of emotions a parent's experiences when their kid is transitioning, she comes off disjointed and unconvincing. She defends Ray, claiming he's been "all boy" since he was born and has actually passed as male for almost half his life, but still doubts he's making the right choice. Her best scene, though, is when she tries to persuade Ray's estranged dad to sign the parental forms so he can start taking testosterone. She screams one of the best lines of the movie, "He has a vagina... but it's like a mean trick."
An unnecessary and confusing subplot arises in trying to discover who Ray's real dad is. The answer comes rushed at the end, which doesn't leave much room for resolution, and also doesn't make sense. The two possible fathers are brothers, Maggie wasn't married to either one of them but admits to knowing the 'wrong' dad signed the birth certificate, even though there's no discussion of a DNA test.
What 3 GENERATIONS is successful at is showing how family members can make a situation they're only secondary to, solely about them. But, the noncommittal acting and inconsistent storyline fail to coherently tell what could have been an important story.
Photo and trailer from 3 Generations, Weinstein Company
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