All images courtesy of The Weinstein Company
When the transgender drama 3 GENERATIONS made its premiere at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, it went by the title About Ray, which seemed to fit the subject matter well. Elle Fanning played the titular Ray, a teenager who is in the process of transitioning as his single mother Maggie (Naomi Watts) and grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) learn to accept the change. At the same time, they try to navigate the waters of their family dysfunction. At first, 3 Generations was set up to be a moving story about one teenage boy’s journey of transitioning and his relationship with his family. But with the new title, it shifted perspective and made it an inter-generational story. That, combined with the controversies surrounding it, weighed the film down and made it lose its primary storytelling focus — which wasn’t well-executed to start.
Gaby Dellal, who directed the film and co-wrote the script with Nikole Beckwith, attempts to tell Ray’s story, his struggle and his relationship with his mother and his grandmother — who are all living under one roof in New York. But before he transitions, he must get consent from his biological father (Tate Donovan) who is practically a stranger to him — and Maggie’s relationship with him is not so hot either. The building blocks to a very good film are there, but they don’t stack up to make a solid movie, let alone a strong narrative that does justice to the trans community.
With all its good intent, 3 Generations was the equivalent of an Instagram foodie attempting to cook and serve a meal at a Michelin Star restaurant. As hard as it tries, it stumbles and fails in execution. There’s a clear disconnect between the filmmaker and cast with the material its presenting — which was one of the controversies surrounding the project from the start. When it was announced that Elle Fanning would be playing the role of Ray, there was a backlash for casting a cisgender female actor as a trans male character. As many Hollywood movies have been known for whitewashing roles as of late (I’m looking at you Ghost in the Shell and Aloha), 3 Generations serves an example of transwashing. I’m not 100 percent sure whether or not there were members of the LGBTQ community involved with the film (side note: Sarandon’s character is a lesbian), but on the surface, the film fuels Hollywood’s epidemic of lack of diverse representation and voices in storytelling. There’s an importance of diversity not only in front of but also behind the camera because it gives the narrative an authenticity that simple writing and acting cannot provide. This would have been a different story if Fanning had done a spectacular job, but she tried way to hard to prove herself in this role. It’s as if she did all her research via “How to act like a boy” YouTube videos. The result was mediocre and melodramatic.
The transwashing and Fanning’s performance are just the start of this problematic film. In addition to the ignorant R-rating initially pinned to the film (it’s now PG-13), there is a part of me that has a sneaking suspicion that the final cut wasn’t the film Dellal set out to make. When I first saw the About Ray trailer, I thought it was a story about a trans teenage boy. Despite my qualms with Fanning in the lead role, it was an appreciated movie with a fresh narrative geared towards the trans community. Fast-forward a couple of months later and the film has now turned into a generational thing, which leads me to believe that there have been numerous edits to take the focus off of the trans storyline and put more of a spotlight on the family aspect of the film. There is no problem with shifting to more of a generational narrative, but if a studio is going to market a film differently than how it was originally conceived, then they sure as hell better do it well. Because if they don’t, it’s going to fall apart no matter how much star power it has.
The juggling between Ray, Maggie, and Dolly’s stories never gels and lacks a confidence. It’s confusing and the movie can’t really make up its mind about what it is. If all the energy was invested in Ray, then the film might have been a home run, but it’s too late to sing all the “could of should of would of’s”. 3 Generations is problematic with its choices of narrative and characters, making it a very insecure film. The film is trying to prove that it is socially aware, woke and in full support of the LGBTQ community. This is great and all, but it ends up overcompensating like that person in the office who makes it a point to say that they know a trans person who works at their local Trader Joe’s.
Running time: 92 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic