Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Despite their track record of awards, The Weinstein Company has a knack for purchasing buzz-heavy films that, after their festival bows and subsequent critical trashings, sit on the shelf collecting dust – only to be retooled and renamed years later. In a certain sense, I can applaud this. It’s like a parent’s unconditional love, never giving up on your problem child. Hoping to avoid another disastrous cable bow a la GRACE OF MONACO, TWC has transformed their 2015 pre-TIFF acquisition/ critically slaughtered lamb, ABOUT RAY, into 3 GENERATIONS. However, time and a new name haven’t changed its core problems – ones that can’t be fixed in post. This is an after-school special with an A-list cast.
Sixteen-year-old Ray (Elle Fanning) is having complex emotions surrounding his life. He grew up a young woman in very liberal NYC household, raised by loving mom Maggie (Naomi Watts), lesbian grandma Dodo (Susan Sarandon), and grandma’s girlfriend Honey/ Frances (Linda Emond). Because puberty isn’t doing him any favors, he wants to begin sexual reassignment hormonal therapy. But in order to do so, he’s gotta get both his mom and estranged biological father Craig (Tate Donovan) to give legal consent. Perhaps everything will work out – if the adults in his life would stop bickering and undermining each other. If.
The biggest problem dogging the picture is that the film doesn’t work as an ensemble piece, nor does it work as an introspective, nuanced, character-driven drama. It’s too soaked in heavy-handed cliche and melodrama. It asks for the viewer’s compassion, yet the characters can’t manage to show compassion towards each other. They barge into rooms, making demands, disrupting the quiet. Everyone is an asshole to Sinna (Maria Dizzia) when she’s perfectly nice. These characters are entitled, not engaging or endearing.
Maggie’s present autonomy is dictated by a past love triangle with Craig and his brother Matthew (Sam Trammell). Dodo and Honey are barely one-dimensional, there to look sympathetic – but at times, they’re the mouthpiece for any bigots in the audience (which I doubt would show up to this movie). Perhaps the most egregious and cloying scene takes place at Craig’s dinner table where his kids ask Ray about his gender. “From the mouths of babes,” the delightful older lady who inevitably sits behind you at the movies would say aloud. Spare me. We all deserve better.
The film’s score is another issue. It runs incongruous to a few of the scenes it plays behind – specifically during the climax where Craig and Maggie yell at each other in his kitchen. The scene’s energy is cleary pinging loudly with darkly comedic overtones and yet the score (not sure if the piece is leftover from the festival version scored by Michael Brook, or the new print’s work done by West Dylan Thordson) plays as overwrought drama. The narrative tone then immediately does a 180 into heavy-handed drama with Ray’s piercing scream. It’s whiplash inducing and maddening.
Its heart is in the right place, seeking to capture the emotional toll of what it’s like for parents of trans youth with keen insight and understanding. But the leaden, situational-driven dialogue both preaches to the choir and turns them away.
3 GENERATIONS opens on May 5.