Three Generations

Ray, the lead character in Three Generations, insists he just wants normalcy. But while it eludes the character, the film itself is unfortunately too normal.

This coming-of-age drama about a family coming to terms with the transformation of a transgender teenager aspires to be both heartfelt and provocative, yet its melodramatic approach just scratches the surface of its relevant subject matter.

Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) shines as Ray, formerly Ramona, a 16-year old in New York who’s psychologically ready to transition from a female to a male. Ray’s single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), has reluctantly accepted those intentions, and started referring to her child as “he” rather than “she.”

Less certain is Ray’s lesbian grandmother (Susan Sarandon), who also lives with the duo and asks rather ignorantly of Ray: “Why can’t she just be a lesbian?” Meanwhile, Ray struggles with school bullies and her own doubts about feeling comfortable in her own skin.

At any rate, the primary issue involves Ray’s desire to start testosterone injections, which requires the consent of both parents. That forces Maggie to track down Ray’s biological father (Tate Donovan), who has started a new family in suburbs and balks both at Ray’s idea and at Maggie’s intrusion — involving others in a dysfunctional mess.

As it probes teen sexuality and fractured families, the screenplay by Nikole Beckwith and director Gaby Dellal (On a Clear Day) feels didactic and heavy-handed. Along the way, the film squanders an audacious performances by Fanning. In fact, the entire cast is saddled with clumsy dialogue.

Only occasionally does Three Generations offer meaningful insight into Ray’s insecurities or inner turmoil. It’s a missed opportunity to present a compassionate portrait of tolerance and gender identity without trivializing or stigmatizing.

We’re no longer in a world where just coming out as gay and lesbian is edgy or controversial. This is an LGBTQ world, where each of those letters is becoming more and more the norm. This tale of acceptance almost feels unnecessary, which is good for society as a whole, but bad for the dramatic intentions of the film.

The broader attempt to promote tolerance and break down stereotypes is evident more in the intentions than the execution. A better film would focus on just one generation.


Rated PG-13, 92 minutes.