“3 GENERATIONS” is the touching story of three generations of a family living under one roof in New York as they deal with teenager Ray’s (Elle Fanning) struggles with the body assigned to him at birth and his determination to start transitioning.
Ray’s single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father (Tate Donovan) to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. Each character must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.
Co-writer and director Gaby Dellal looks at the troubles of guardianship over a combustible teenager to fuel most of the feature’s dramatic potential. At times “3 Generations” feels aimless and confuses core issues with behavioral messiness and performance indulgence. Dellal often seems like she doesn’t know what she wants to accomplish here and this affects the film throughout.
Ray was born Ramona and he has spent the majority of his life trying to be accepted as a boy. Now at 16 years old, Ray is looking to make a permanent transition to a male, requiring a consent form signature from her mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), to begin hormone treatments. Maggie is unsure about the finality of it all, and tries to accept Ray’s urgency, but she discovers a greater problem with the form she must fill out so that things can move forward. The form requires permission from Ray’s absentee father, Craig. Her ex, who’s moved on with a new family of his own and Maggie has to deal with difficult feelings of guilt and abandonment, trying to make peace with a man who doesn’t understand the essence of Ray’s needs. Overseeing the fight is Maggie’s mother, Dolly (Susan Sarandon), who’s also confronted with transition issues when partner Frances (Linda Emond) desires a change in their living arrangement, losing Maggie as a tenant.
Ray works very hard to be a teenage boy. Ray loves skateboarding around New York City, working on music and video projects that detail his inner life, and desiring companionship, all the while feeling like an outsider. He is about to move to a new school and this frustration guides most of the movie, thus causing Ray to be unrelenting in his need to get the consent form signed, and that shows itself in his bullying Maggie into submission. There’s a fine line between adolescent activity and mean-spirited behavior, and Dellal doesn’t seem to be aware of Ray’s somewhat ways, which often bring about major outbursts and arguments. That Ray needs to complete his journey is understood, but so is Maggie’s reluctance.
The story is a tug of war between Ray and Maggie, with the mother also forced to reopen old wounds when back in Craig’s presence, reuniting with a man she ended things badly with. It is also a tiptoeing approach to the physical realities of gender reassignment.
Maggie has raised Ray independently for years. bWhen we first meet Ray, he is in a doctor’s office being informed of the changes his body will undergo once he starts testosterone treatment. With him are mother Maggie, grandmother Dolly and Dolly’s longtime partner Dodo (Linda Emond). There is no doubt of the women’s support though each of them has some misgivings. Maggie is afraid of the implications of Ray’s decision and has serious misgivings about letting go of the girl she’s raised for almost 16 years.
Fanning conveys both Ray’s absolute confidence in embracing his true self as well as the panic that it might not happen at all.