'3 Generations' Review: This Trans-Issue Melodrama Is a Mess in a Dress

It may feature three A-list actresses and a torn-from-the-headlines issue in trans rights – but this drama is pure old-fashioned Hollywood bullshit

'3 Generations' features A-list actresses and a torn-from-the-headlines issue in trans rights – Peter Travers says it's also a cinematic car wreck.

How do you screw this up? You've got three leading actresses – Susan Sarandon, Naomi Watts and Elle Fanning – who are usually worth watching in anything. But 3 Generations is pushing it. Even nurturing talent can't breathe life into a script that is completely D.O.A.

In fact, the movie has been lying dormant on a Weinstein Company shelf since it debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, under the title About Ray. Clearly, director and co-writer Gaby Dellal's film has been much fiddled with in the interim – and not for the good. Ray is played by Fanning as a 16-year-old who's fed up with living his life as a girl named Ramona. Watts plays Maggie, Ray's mother, who wants to be supportive, despite such nagging questions as "What if he turns around one day with a full beard and says, 'Mom, I made a mistake?'" And Sarandon is Dolly, Ray's lesbian grandmother who doesn't understand this transition stuff since, in Dolly's mind, Ramona can just come out as gay.

It's a sticky brew that requites nuance and complication. Instead, Dellal allows the drama to drown in cliché and crude manipulation. Ray lives in sprawling apartment in New York's East Village (only in Hollywood, people) with Maggie, Dolly and Dolly's longtime love Frances (Linda Emond). Arguments are frequent, as well as futile attempts at laughs. Nothing registers, even when another plot element is introduced from the bad-television handbook. You see, Ray needs the signatures of both parents to begin hormone treatments. That means Maggie must track down her child's birth father (Tate Donovan), who now lives in the burbs with his wife (Maria Dizzia) and their three young children.

And suddenly Dellal's film isn't about Ray at all. It's about tracking down the long-lost dad and consent documents while introducing life obstacles that have nothing to do with the trans theme the film has introduced and has now oh-so-crassly abandoned. All it takes is a wisecrack and a tight squeeze from grandma ("It's about time we had a man in this family." Make it stop!) to smooth over any and all thorny issues, i.e. the same ones that were the only reason to make this movie in the first place.We're now just left with another bloodless example of Hollywood's cowardice in grappling with the world as it is. 3 Generations doesn't cut deep. In fact, it doesn't cut at all.