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The drama "3 Generations" has its heart in the right place, but everything else about it is spiraling into too many directions in a scattershot depiction of a transgender teen and his transition's effect on his family.
Ray, played by Elle Fanning, wants nothing more than to be your average New York boy, riding his skateboard around Manhattan and mixing beats on his keyboard. But Ray is not average, because until a few years ago he was Ramona, the daughter of single mom Maggie (Naomi Watts). They all live with Maggie's mom, Dolly (Susan Sarandon), and Dolly's wife, Frances (Linda Emond).
At 16, Ray is finally old enough for hormonal treatments for gender dysphoria, something he's wanted for years. Dolly expresses her doubts: "Why can't he just be a lesbian?" But all three generations of this family are on board to start the treatments.
Then comes a snag, one that propels the plot devised by writers Nikole Beckwith and Gaby Dellal, who directed: Ray needs the consent form signed not just by Maggie but by his biological father, Craig (Tate Donovan), whom he has never met. Meanwhile, Dolly and Frances are broaching the subject of asking Maggie and Ray to move out of their apartment and live on their own.
Dellal earnestly aims to raise all the pertinent issues that face a transitioning teen, from transphobic bullies to the inconvenience of having breasts. And while these things undoubtedly happen in real life, Dellal's treatment of these issues feels forced and inauthentic and the cliché-filled dialogue assigned to Watts, Donovan and Sarandon doesn't help.
What does feel authentic in "3 Generations" is Fanning's performance. Leaving aside the issue of representation and whether a cisgender female actor should be playing a trans character, she nicely embodies Ray's frustration at being born in the wrong body and the joy of being given the chance to live the way he wants. In a movie that constantly tells us the importance of identity, Fanning is the only one who shows us what it means to be their true self.
A trans teen gets a chance to live the life he wants in this heartfelt but scattered drama.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, May 12.
Rating • PG-13 for mature thematic content, some sexual references and language.
Running time • 92 minutes.