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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 3 Generations is an indie drama starring Elle Fanning as a female-to-male transgender teen being raised by his single mother and lesbian grandmothers in New York City. The movie, which has sparked some controversy among the trans community, doesn't feature a transgender actor in the main role but does portray the character as unambiguously knowing he is male. You can expect occasional strong language (including "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole") and candid, emotional conversations about the struggles involved with being transgender and raising a transgender child. Characters say the wrong thing frequently and make plenty of mistakes, but that makes them relatable, and most have their heart in the right place. Ultimately themes include courage and communication. In a couple of scenes, teen guys discuss girls they find hot/would have sex with and make jokes about their penis size; other scenes show adults drinking and in bed post-sex. There's some arguing, and a character is in a minor car crash. The film initially earned an R rating from the MPAA (primarily for language) but was edited to be eligible for PG-13.
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What's the story?
3 GENERATIONS is the story of Ray (Ellen Fanning), a transgender teen boy who was assigned female at birth (and named Ramona) and raised by two generations of women in New York City. He lives with his single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts); Maggie's mom, Dolly (Susan Sarandon); and her partner, Honey (Linda Emond). Dolly and Honey own the downtown brownstone where they all live. Ray's excited that his endocrinologist wants to start him on male hormone therapy to stop his periods and help him develop more muscle mass, but there are obstacles to overcome. Dolly initially doesn't understand why Ray can't just be a butch lesbian, and Maggie discovers that she needs both of Ray's parents' permission to start the medical protoco. This forces her to confront her past and her estranged ex, Craig (Tate Donovan), who has wife and children she didn't know existed.
Is it any good?
It has strong performances, but this earnest family drama about a trans teen unfortunately takes an underwhelming turn into melodramatic soap-opera territory. Fanning isn't trans, but she seems to have done enough research to make her portrayal of Ray convincing as he juggles the big feelings that teens born in the wrong bodies must go through. Ray is excited at the prospect of starting a new school, where people won't misgender or misname him; angry that others -- including his progressive lesbian grandma -- don't get it; scared about his romantic prospects; and committed to being his true self. Fanning is a talented young actress, and it's only a shame that the film doesn't stay focused on Ray's journey, instead detouring too much to Maggie.
Maggie is an adult daughter living with her mom to save money, raising her child alone by choice, and now looking for an ex who's still hostile about the way she treated him years ago. Watts occasionally overdoes the soapier bits, particularly in her big scene opposite Donovan, who's none too pleased to see the woman responsible for a lot of unresolved heartache and betrayal. As for supporting players Sarandon and Emond, they play opinionated, well-off, and cultured quite well. They add levity, as well as occasionally the voice of reason and revelation. Sarandon in particular is a stand-in for all those who are open-minded but confused about transgender issues. And when she's not dealing with Maggie's disastrous love life, Watts does a fine job demonstrating the complexity of raising a trans child. Ultimately, 3 Generations would have been better had there been more of the kid and less of the adults.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in 3 Generations. What does the film have to say about families? About love and communication? Does everyone always say the right thing in this movie? When they don't, what happens? What does that teach viewers?
Some have called the film insensitive to the trans community because star Elle Fanning isn't trans. What role, if any, do you think an actor's personal identity should play in casting LGBTQ+ characters?
What do you think the movie hopes to achieve in telling Ray's story? How does it compare to other stories about trans/LGBTQ+ characters?
- In theaters: May 5, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: June 13, 2017
- Cast: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon
- Director: Gaby Dellal
- Studio: The Weinstein Company
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: High School
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic content, some sexual references and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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