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Midlife crisis indeed: “Transamerica” and “Far Side of the Moon”

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“Desperate Housewives” is a grand camp feat, a show about female archetypes as dreamed up by gay men that has won over a nation that’s still supposedly hypersensitive about sexuality. And “Desperate Housewives” haunts “Transamerica” (for all that the show hadn’t yet taken off when the film was being made) not the least because it’s stars Housewife Felicity Huffman, but also because the film seems like the logical extension of the series — dropping the veil of surreal suburban narrative and skipping straight to a man in the last stages of attempting to reinvent himself as a woman.

Huffman’s getting a lot of Oscar talk for her role as Bree (formerly Stanley), an L.A.-dwelling transsexual on the verge of doing away with the pre- in pre-op when contacted by the teenage son she didn’t know she fathered in a long-ago hetero relationship, and she deserves it — plastering her long face with slightly off-color foundation, draped in catalogue scarves and pink suits, extremely self-conscious in all her movements, she’s spookily convincing. Toby (played by Kevin Zegers, of, disturbingly, the “Air Bud” films) turns out to be a runaway living as a drug-addicted hustler in New York. Through several plot machinations, the two end up on a cross-country road trip — Toby believing that Bree’s a woman and a missionary, Bree being forced to get to know her son after she finds she can’t foist him off on his stepfather. The expected hijinks, bonding, and misunderstandings ensue.

“Transamerica” is saved from typical indie cuteness by an undercurrent of tartness that balances out most of the sappier scenes, and by Huffman’s astonishing ability to add complexity to a character that was written as a pat Sundance cutout. Her Bree is selfish, wounded, and defensive — she’s managed to seal herself off from everyone other than her therapist, putting her life on hold with the idea that after the surgery, it will start anew. Huffman sails above scenes in which she’s forced to visit her eccentric-unbearable family, or ones in which she’s wooed by a deus-ex-romantic interest, both by the numbers bits you’d expect from just knowing what the film is about. It’s all worthwhile for the moment in which she’s finally won Toby over, and he attempts to pay her back the only way he knows how — it’s uncomfortable, heartbreaking and bitingly alive.

On the other end of being forced out of one’s mire of middle-age solitude is Quebecer Robert Lepage’s “The Far Side of the Moon,” a cool-to-the-touch adaptation of Lepage’s one-man show of the same name. A visually inventive exploration of the life of Philippe (Lepage), a lonely dreamer attempting to reconnect with his brother (also played by Lepage) after the death of their mother, the film opens with a rather beautiful montage about the Soviet space program and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of it’s leading scientists, who once predicted that “one day, man would walk and live in weightlessness on the moon, the ideal refuge, he said, for those who find life heavy.” The exploration of space becomes one of the film’s lingering metaphors, and the definitive indicator of its theatrical roots (beyond the abundance of scenes in which a character is plopped in front of a busy background he or she doesn’t interact with, simply for variety) — what flows on stage can seem tedious on screen. Still, the film, which moves at a languid pace, does build momentum, making its way to a melancholy, lovely peak, a paean to urban isolation as well as the inherent aloneness of existence.

“Transamerica” opens in New York and LA December 2. “The Far Side of the Moon” opens in New York.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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