“3 Generations” may not be the movie its filmmakers and audiences were hoping for, but if there is any takeaway to be had, it is the optimism that one can get through unbelievable hardships with family by their side.
It is obvious that “3 Generations” is a film The Weinstein Company was determined to make, no matter what. Originally set for a 2015 release, the Gaby Dellal-directed drama faced criticism from the get go. Campaigning to bring it’s originally slotted “R” rating down to “PG-13,” this family drama, which centers on a transgender teen’s attempt gain support from his unconventional family about his decision to start testosterone hormones, was going to let nothing get in the distributor’s way– not technical errors, continuity errors, or errors of any kind. And while the seed of a story is there, sloppy edits, plenty of plot holes, and distracting voiceovers resembling a Japanese game show, turn a story that would have been a sensitive coming of age film into a comedy of errors.
Our protagonist, Ray (Elle Fanning), has identified as a male since childhood and has reached the stage in his transition process to start taking testosterone. After visiting a doctor in a well-to-do New York City borough, Ray’s mother Maggie (Naomi Watts) and his lesbian grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) aren’t shy about voicing their concerns. While Dolly isn’t convinced this is the appropriate next step given Ray’s age, Maggie dreads the fact that she will need to make contact with her estranged ex-boyfriend and Ray’s father, Craig (Tate Donovan), to secure parental consent. Family drama aside, Ray isn’t deterred from living his truth and makes it abundantly clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes to begin “T.”
Since it’s scheduled release in 2015, transgender issues in film have become more widely seen and accepted, thanks to TV shows like “Transparent” and the Oscar-nominated film, “The Danish Girl.” While “3 Generations” had the potential to be another strong entry in the diversity pool, it ends up being cliché, shallow, and a poor attempt at revealing the struggles of trans youth to mainstream audiences. It just didn’t seem like director Gaby Dellal understood the magnitude of the extremely personal content she was working with or had spent enough time digging deeper than headline news stories about trans youth.
This is not to say Elle Fanning’s performance was off-putting, in fact, she took a huge risk in accepting this role, but as famously accomplished as she is, she can’t tap into what it’s like to struggle in gender purgatory.
Personally, I think the film should have kept its working title “About Ray.” The title “3 Generations” seems to downplay the importance of Ray’s situation by comparing his mother’s and grandmother’s non-existent life crises. Perhaps, this change was made after Dellal re-edited the film in 2016, when it had been shelved for nearly a year. I’m also curious if the original film was as poorly dubbed as the final edit I saw last week, when I counted at least five times that a character’s spoken lines did not visually match the words coming out of their mouth. A terribly distracting and unintentionally comical situation of voice overs gone wrong.
Technical flaws aside, the biggest disservice of “3 Generations” is the missed opportunity to have an actual transgender actor play the part of Ray, or at the very least a more anonymous actor. This is not to say Elle Fanning’s performance was off-putting, in fact, she took a huge risk in accepting this role, but as famously accomplished as she is, she can’t tap into what it’s like to struggle in gender purgatory. Her performance is explosive when it needs to be and introspective in all the right moments, yet it is still hard to get lost in her struggles when the distraction of her Julia Roberts a lá “Mother’s Day” wig steals every scene.
“3 Generations” may not be the movie its filmmakers and audiences were hoping for, but if there is any takeaway to be had, it is the optimism that one can acquire through surviving unbelievable hardships with family by their side. For as uninspired as the film was, at the core of the story is a silver lining in the message that individuality should be celebrated and unconventional is beautiful, and that is definitely a message worth spreading.