3 Generations (2015)

  • Time: 87 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Gaby Dellal
  • Cast: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon


Family living under one roof in New York must deal with a life-changing transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray is a teenager who has come to the realization that he isn’t meant to be a girl and has decided to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie, must track down Ray’s biological father to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly, Ray’s lesbian grandmother, is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.

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  • Though titled About Ray, British director Gaby Dellal’s latest film often seems less about its title character than Maggie (Naomi Watts), the single mother struggling with her child’s decision to transition from female to male. This is not necessarily a bad thing for Watts is a remarkably empathetic performer, but the film’s somewhat diffuse focus and indecisive tonality underserve a story which couldn’t be more any more topical. Luckily, the performances and the film’s undeniably heartfelt approach overcome the contrivances.

    When we first meet Ray (Elle Fanning), he is in a doctor’s office being informed of the changes his body will undergo once he starts testosterone treatment. There with him are mother Maggie, grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) and Dolly’s longtime partner Dodo (Linda Emond). There is no doubt of the women’s support though each of them has some misgivings. Why is the normal the goal, Dolly wonders when Ray says he just wants to be a normal boy going to a normal school with other normal children. “What about being authentic?” Dolly insists. “Authentic is what he wants to be,” Maggie replies in exasperation.

    Maggie herself is afraid of the implications of Ray’s decision. Will allowing Ray to do this make her a good mother or the worst mother ever? How can she let go of the girl she’s raised for almost 16 years? What’s more, since Ray is under 16, the transition process can only go ahead if the paperwork is signed by both parents. Maggie has to confront Ray’s father Craig (Tate Donovan), who has been out of their lives for nearly a decade and now married with a wife and kids. It’s not only a matter of getting Craig to endorse Ray’s decision, but also not allowing past grievances to rise to the surface.

    Dellal and co-screenwriter Nikole Beckwith don’t seem to trust the inherent intrigue of their tale – namely how a family deals with a person in transition – since they insist on unnecessary sub-plots like Maggie’s past romantic entanglement with Craig’s brother (Sam Trammell), have Dolly and Dodo dispense wisecracks from the sidelines, and fail to flesh out Ray himself. On paper, there’s no real understanding of Ray’s inner workings. Thankfully, Fanning conveys both Ray’s absolute confidence in embracing his true self as well as the panic that it might not happen at all.

    On the one hand, it’s admirable how Dellal and Beckwith “normalises” Ray’s journey. Yes, concerns are raised, pronoun confusion is touched upon, Ray has an encounter with a bully, etc., but this is a film that espouses acceptance above all. That transgender or any LGB issue can be so conventionally depicted is a step in the right direction. However, one does wish that Dellal had strengthened the material or perhaps narrowed her attention on the second half of the film which, despite its more overwrought narrative, proves the better and more complex part of the film as Craig attempts to not only reconcile this transgender teen to the memory of the little girl he had and explain Ray’s situation to his young children, but also Maggie’s pain at not only facing her past but also the concrete reality of what she is about to sign away.

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