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‘3 Generations’ Review: Trans Teen Dramedy Could Have Been So Much More

Deadline logo Deadline 5/6/2017 Pete Hammond
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Its theatrical release long delayed, the new dramedy 3 Generations is finally here, but the gap between its 2014 production and now seems to have cost it the urgency and relevance it might have had earlier. Originally presented at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival under the title About Ray and initially set for release that month, this beautifully cast, small New York City-set comedy/drama was retitled and, considering the film is about much more than just Ray, 3 Generations actually is more truth in advertising.

After its fest exposure, director/co-writer Gaby Dellal reportedly took it back into the editing room, but what could have been a heartfelt and compelling look at the complex life and feelings of a trans teen attempting hormonal therapy instead focuses far more on his family, their reactions to his plight, and their own problems. As I say in my video review above, there is nothing wrong with that, but in making Ray a supporting player in his own story it seems a bit of a lost opportunity for Dellal and co-screenwriter Nikole Beckwith. As it is, 3 Generations highlights those around Ray as much as Ray himself, but what a cast, and they certainly make the most of it.

Elle Fanning plays Ray, a trans teen who has always lived as a boy in his heart even though he was born into another body. Now the moment of truth is near, and he is determined to get hormonal therapy to complete the process. This requires consent from both parents who are no longer together — his father Craig (Tate Donovan), now with a family of his own, and mother Maggie (Naomi Watts), whose past relationships including with Craig’s brother Matthew (Sam Trammell) make this all the more complicated and, quite frankly, a bit soap opera-ish. Ray lives with Maggie and his lesbian grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) and her significant other Frances (Linda Emond) under the same roof, hence the title 3 Generations. Each get their own moment in the sun in this slight but engaging family story that revolves around Ray’s unending efforts to get a piece of paper signed so he can go on with his life.

This cast of terrific pros makes it all work as far as it goes, and the message is ultimately a good one — especially for teens who may relate to Ray in different ways. That is why it was so perplexing to see the film originally get an R-rating for language. Fortunately, The Weinstein Company appealed and got it lowered to a PG-13 with only minor tweaks. There should be nothing restricted about this well-meaning film that ultimately asks us to define just what a family really is. In that way, it has something in common with the far superior Gifted also in theaters now.

Fanning continues to be a revelation in every movie she pops up in and is completely convincing here as a boy in transition. Watts, as always, nails the complexity of a woman with troubled personal relationships just trying to be a good mother. Sarandon and Emond are wonderful, and actually I wanted to see even more of them. Ironically, for a movie centered on the quest of a trans teen who simply wants to be a boy, this is a strongly female-driven production both in front of and behind the scenes. Perhaps that is why its heart shows through more than anything else.

Taken for what is, and not necessarily what it could have been, 3 Generations is still a worthwhile effort and recommended. Dorothy Berwin, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub and Dellal are producers. The Weinstein Company puts it into limited release starting today.

Do you plan to see 3 Generations? Let us know what you think.

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