The smallest, simplest movies often nurture the biggest, most complex performances from their stars ? and the little 'Transamerica' is no different.
With a refreshing directness and immediacy that comes from the lack of a big budget, it simply gets on with telling the story of Bree, a male-to-female transsexual on the brink of having her final gender reassignment surgery. But a week ahead of the big operation she discovers that a sexual fumble during her youth resulted in a son, Toby, now a jailed teenage runaway. And he's looking for his dad.
Forced by her therapist to see the boy, she poses as a Christian missionary sent to reform him and reluctantly finds herself driving the teen across the country so that he may fulfil his dreams of becoming a film star ? and find his father.
It's a rudimentary framework, but one that gives Felicity Huffmann enough freedom to deliver a startling turn as the conservative, restrained Bree. With her careful diction and meticulously calculated walk, the actress is near perfect as someone still slightly tentative about the intricacies of being a woman.
But her performance goes way beyond the physical ? flowing like a powerful underground river, never far below the surface is Bree's constant fear of being discovered.
It's undoubtedly Huffman's film, although Kevin Zegers as Toby is no slouch. He's fine at playing Bree's antithesis ? wild, exhibitionistic, uninhibited ? but when it comes to their similarities ? both are withdrawn loners, suspicious of the world that spat in their faces ? he pales in comparison to his more experienced co-star.
Zegers never quite gets a handle on the emotional aspects of the role ? but writer-director Duncan Tucker does, admittedly, present him with a few jarring character inconsistencies.
And while Tucker is in the spotlight, he may as well step forward for the somewhat hokey storytelling that occasionally crops up like a donga in the road. Some of the dialogue and events ? Bree's family reunion, for one ? seem like they'd be more at home in a Hallmark movie, although it's possible they're further attempts to subvert accepted norms.
That wry subversion is something 'Transamerica' nearly overdoses on ? from the clever clogs title to the way it turns the whole concept of roadtrip stories and family values tales on their collective heads.
But while individual incidents provide for ironic humour and moments of pathos, the overall effect is one of quiet desperation, to make us realise that Bree, in wanting to be accepted for who she truly is, is just like anybody else.
But we knew that already.
And had Tucker toned down his earnest indie filmmaking techniques and simply let Huffmann and Zegers explore their relationship naturally, that message would have been apparent, anyway.