I don't normally review "new" movies, it's kinda in the MMT bylaws, but since the makers of the as-yet-unreleased Trantastic were nice enough to send me a screener, I figured it would be ok to break my own rule just this one time. And, oh my sweet zombie jesus, is this film all about breaking the rules. Trantastic, an independent film from Scumbag Movies of Southern California, is essentially a 120-minute long examination of why men shouldn't wear hipster panties, why God hates homosexuals more than Hitler, and why it's totally not cool to throw someone's dead cat across the yard just because you're mad that they didn't invite you to the funeral. Packaged as a documentary on cross-dressing, it's really more of a fake movie within a fake movie within a fake documentary. And, yes, I don't understand that either.
The film is about three transvestite friends who live in the same city (San Diego, presumably) who have formed a support group called NATAG (Not All Transvestites Are Gay), which seemingly exists solely to provide them a forum for their rampant and venomous homophobia. And that's what Trantastic ends up being about for the most part, a constant and unrelenting assault on the gay community by three guys who insist that they are totally not gay just because they like to wear little girl panties and frilly tube tops. It's so insanely anti-gay, in fact, that it gets old pretty fast.
Everyone needs friends.
Near on the first 80% of the movie is taken up with extended and intimate interviews with each of the three transvestites. And by "intimate" I not only mean that we get to know their family backgrounds and workplace struggles, but we also get to know what shade of lip gloss they prefer and how difficult it is to tape your ball sack up while wearing a miniskirt. A little part of me died while watching this movie.
And man butts, lots of man butts.
The first guy we meet is Chuck, a unmotivated Danny McBride-lookalike who likes to buy his women's clothes three sizes too small. He's married to a young girl (her face is blurred out, thankfully) who apparently just recently found out that Chuck looks better in see-through lingerie than she does. We must suspend our disbelief when she says that they were married for three years before she realized he was a transvestite. That's just not something you can hide, in my opinion, especially Chuck, who really, really enjoys shopping at Hot Topic.
If there's anything Chuck loves more than his mauve NYC foundation and his Prada platform heels, it's his cats. He really loves his cats. He even puts little dainty cowboy hats on his cats, which should be the Bat-Signal for a squad of PETA paratroopers, but here is played for giggles. The cats actually get a lot of screen time in this movie, more than you might expect, and I think they are trying to say that even if other humans refuse to except Chuck for who he is, his feline friends will always love him (as long as he keeps feeding them...).
"Please kill me."
The second man is Jesse, who is the least fleshed-out character of the three. Jesse claims that it's okay for him to wear dresses because Jesus wore flowing robes, which, you know, is technically accurate, but he's going to have a hard time defusing that landmine in polite conversation. He's also sure that because his Catholic bishop wears gilded robes, then it's totally ok for him to wear leopard-print pantsuits from the Morgan Fairchild collection. He's wrong on so many levels.
Speaking of things that are bound to offend, did I mention that Jesse spends most of his on-camera time gyrating around in a variety of skimpy outfits that would make a Vegas hooker blush? I could probably overlook that (or not) if Jesse was an attractive man in any way, but he's not. To be honest, he's a dumpy, muffin-topped, prison-tattooed, perpetually unshaven, hirsute guy with NFL linebacker ankles and an Alabama chicken farmer haircut. He could probably make those clothes work for him better if he'd lay off the bacon cheeseburgers and buy a decent Norelco shaver.
No...just, no. No.
I guess I should mention here that I have zero personal experience with cross-dressers/transvestites. I suspect, though, that I've known some in my life, I just didn't know it, that sort of thing is usually kept behind closed doors. I have to wonder about the double standard, however, because if a man wears a blouse he's a deviant sexual weirdo, but if a woman wears a guy's t-shirt that's pretty cool. What is the difference, really? One of the classic sexy images of all time is the girl wearing her boyfriend's button-up shirt with nothing on underneath, you see that in commercials and print ads all the time, as well as in movies (go watch Breakfast at Tiffany's again). Why is that acceptable, but a man in a miniskirt (Scots excepted) is cause for conservative hyperventilation? What gives?
Marlene would understand.
The last dude we meet is Brandon, who is the threesome's most vocal and outgoing member. He's also the most homophobic, never going more than two minutes without reminding us (and himself, more to the point) that gays are gross and nasty and he's 110% hetero, despite his fishnet stockings and Pippi Longstockings wig. Compared to the chubby Chuck and the grandmotherly Jesse, the size 2, freakishly tall, surprisingly hairless Brandon is clearly the hot one in the group. He's the only one who can wear a leather thong and high heels without just looking silly. And, yes, I am secure enough in my manhood to admit that.
I should note that none of these actors are truly transvestites in real life, they are just playing the part. And not playing it very well, if you ask me, often drifting into the realm of intentional parody, which ruins the "serious" message they are trying to get across here. This is quite evident in a bridge scene where Brandon goes on an ultra-right-wing Pastor's cable access talk show to defend his life-choices. Let's just say he doesn't do the transvestite community any favors with his ham-fisted explanations of fashion and his homophobic rants.
This can't end well.
We also meet Brandon's foul-mouthed mom, who loves and supports his "differences" like a good mom should. Though, in a way, she's the stereotypical enabler, providing Brandon with a false sense that he really is the normal one and everyone else (especially the gays!) is perverted. It's a good thing he still lives at home in the basement, because he's completely not ready for independent living. They also show us some home movies, purporting to show Brandon as an underage child, which means that years from now a mom and dad are going to have to explain to their child's therapist why they made him star in a cross-dressing movie when he was a kid.
Do they wear the same shade?
For some reason there's a fourth guy we meet, who is named "Phil Thea" (say it fast...). Phil isn't a part of the group, it seems, and I'm not sure why he's in this movie at all as he has absolutely no role in the plot (such as it is). We are, to our horror, treated to an extended, five minute long music video number where Phil dances around seductively in a shirt dress while holding a Yorkie (who is also in drag). This entire film is littered with full-length musical numbers, where it's clear that the filmmakers were repaying local San Diego garage bands for donating their music by letting the entire song play in the background, sans dialogue. It does get annoying after a while, though the songs are pretty catchy, and I'm not exactly sure why we even need to pad out this movie to 120 minutes. You know, good editing is more about knowing what to cut than what to keep.
Why are you here, Phil?
It's only in the film's final 6 minutes or so that we get any sort of "plot resolution". Chuck and Jesse are upset with Brandon for railroading NATAG to his whims and want to bail. Each of these men have their own hang-ups and emotional problems, and each of them thinks that their issues are more important than any else's, which can't help but cause conflict eventually. For most of the movie that slow breakdown takes the form of passive-aggressive verbal jabs and back-handed insults, but you can tell it's coming to a head soon.
In their defense, Brandon is a bit of a prick.
And it supernovas finally when Chuck's cat dies and he has a funeral for her in his backyard. He invites Jesse but not Brandon, which doesn't go over well. Brandon shows up and in a horrifically entertaining moment, grabs the shoebox containing the poor dead cat and chucks it across the yard like Doug Flutie throwing a Hail Mary pass against Miami. This is pretty much the end of their friendship (and well it should be).
Don't throw dead cats. That's seriously uncool, dude.
The ending is "documentary like" as we see that Chuck and Jesse get married and open a pet shop in Hawaii and Brandon gets shot dead at an anti-gay rally. Any illusion that this is a "real documentary" is ruined by the end credits that show clearly that the three guys are just actors (and serve as half the production crew as well). Honestly, and I can't believe I'm offering advice to them, they should have left the credits off, or changed the names or something, because it totally ruined the film for me.
Try "Alan Smithee", perhaps?
In closing, Trantastic was altogether an against-my-own-will mesmerizing hour and a half of preteen bras over hairy man-chests and lectures on the evils of gay sex, equal parts engrossing and repellant, like a lavender and chiffon train wreck that you just can't look away from. Did it change my opinion on transvestites? Not really, not sure I ever had an opinion. Did it change my opinion on homosexuality? Not likely, pretty open-minded still. Did it make me want to take a long, hot shower with a bottle of bleach? Absolutely, but the best praise you can give a movie like this is that it invokes a visceral response in the viewer, good or bad. It that respect, job well done. If you can find it on DVD somewhere (like, right here), it might be worth a look.
Heels are so damn uncomfortable when you have wide feet.
PS. Don't accidentally do a google image search for "transtastic movie", with an "s", you won't like what you see...