‘3 Generations’ played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 under the title ‘About Ray’ with a planned release just days after its premiere. It was pulled and now it’s being reluctantly released opposite a Marvel blockbuster to quietly disappear and die a death the Weinsteins decided it deserved long ago.
Watching the trans drama, it’s easy to see why that happened. While the movie easily condenses to an awards bait trailer filled with stars, it’s just not compelling enough to be worth sitting through a 90 minute expansion.
Elle Fanning stars as Ray (formally Ramona), a 16-year-old trans boy in New York anxious to start hormone therapy. Ray strives hard to pursue his identity and change his body, but needs to turn to medicine for the next step. Ray’s mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), cares and is supportive, but she has to face her own difficult past to help her child’s future. (Gasp!) A signature on a consent form from Ray’s father is needed to start the process, but Maggie hasn’t spoken to him in years and is understandably reluctant. It’s a case of a parent not understanding her kid’s anguish and a kid unwilling to identify with his mother’s own. To make things even more complicated, as Ray’s grandmother (Susan Sarandon) can’t understand why the youngin’ couldn’t just be a lesbian like her. “Geez, kids these days,” she thinks. Meanwhile, we think she’s a monster. But you know, everyone has their own story and struggle. Maybe we shouldn’t judge? Yeesh…
As you can likely already tell, this movie is about important issues told in an important way. We know the issues are important because of how the music shifts when they’re discussed, and we know the movie is important because it has famous actors making sad faces on the regular. There are also metaphors. Like how the three generations of characters all live in the same building with stairs separating them. They’re all trapped together, you see? But maybe they’re also the same in a way too? Like they’re all connected. Generational bonds, pains that are universal no matter how much the world changes, that sort of thing. Don’t worry about missing any of these big ideas or issues. The movie will spell them out loudly and clearly.
The actors are famous, though, so that might help if they weren’t condemned to such tediously underdeveloped roles. Elle Fanning might do an admirable job of adjusting her physicality to suit the part, but she’s not playing a character as much as a living embodiment of teen angst designed to throw temper tantrums and complain about feelings. Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is on wacky grandma duty, being all sassy and wise and a big ol’ cliché unworthy of the actress’ efforts. As for Watts, she’s caught in the middle and in charge of furrowing her brow and gazing thoughtfully off screen so that the audience knows these issues are hard and demand thought. The three actresses are major talents severely underserved by a movie that disappoints with frightening efficiency. To be fair, no one should be asked to speak lines of dialogue like “I’m not having a shitty day, I’m having a shitty existence” or this exchange:
“Why can’t she just be a lesbian? She likes women?”
“Authentic, is what she wants to be!”
What we have here is a Hallmark Channel movie made with a big budget and famous faces because the issue was just timely enough when the script made the rounds. Somehow, even in the two short years since ‘3 Generations’ premiered at TIFF, the film already feels hopelessly dated. It’s an issue movie for folks lacking Google and a big screen soap opera for those who miss their afternoon stories and cozy messages.
It’s no surprise that the Weinsteins pulled the plug on this one after the first round of bad reviews. The title change and oddly abrupt editing suggests that the film was also chopped to bits in the hopes of salvation. Nothing worked. The movie is a stinker, but it at least means well and was shot and performed with compassion. Too bad the compassion was underserved. It’s hard to imagine anyone interested in trans issues finding this film worthwhile or anyone who needs the education bothering to find it at all. ‘3 Generations’ is a well-meaning movie destined to please no one. At least the Weinsteins had the good taste to dump it in a release window guaranteed to ensure that will notice its existence. That saves everyone some trouble.