This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, Tate Donovan

Director: Gaby Dellal

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017 (Limited)

It is great when the stories of minority and discriminated groups are portrayed on the big screen, as they are granted greater visibility via the transportive power of cinema. But it is not so great when those stories are boring, because then the experience is less transportive. Teenage Ray (Elle Fanning) is a transgender male hoping to quickly start his gender reassignment treatment, and the reason this film is entitled “3 Generations” as opposed to something like “Ray’s Story” is because it is really about his relationship with his single mother Maggie (Naomi Watts) and grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon), whom he lives with together inManhattan. These are three talented ladies, and none of them phone it in, but ultimately 3 Generations feels like little more than spending a couple of hours with a family other than your own.

Teenage transgender transition stories offer the reliable dramatic hook of attempting to secure parental permission. Ray’s decision must be approved by both his mother and long-absentee father Craig (Tate Donovan). And therein lies the rub, as Maggie and Craig are not exactly on good terms, to put it mildly. It is enough to make you scream. Ray certainly does. Donovan is a captivating screen presence, and he has the necessary anti-chemistry with Watts, but again this mostly boils down to: families of transgender people can be just as dysfunctional as everyone else’s.

A constant source of tension for Ray is his grandmother’s difficulty accepting his identity. Dolly is far from conservative. She is a lesbian, but just because your sexuality is not mainstream does not mean you cannot also be closed-minded. There is an edge to Ray and Dolly’s interactions that is unavoidable, but also fascinating. A version of 3 Generations pared down to grandmother/grandson buddy comedy could be a winning formula. The obligations of familial love can be in a constant battle with the plague of misunderstanding/ I think that is the valiant thesis of this film, but it struggles to put its own spin on that age-old conundrum.

3 Generations is Recommended If You Like: The Kids Are All Right, Being an Elle Fanning Completist

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fire Escapes