Directed by Duncan Tucker, starring Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnuala Flanagan, Graham Greene, Burt Young, Carrie Preston and Elizabeth Peña.

Having received two Oscar nominations and taken an age (it seems) to get here, 'Transamerica' was unlikely to catch us off-guard. We have had plenty of advance notice that Felicity Huffman stars as Bree Osbourne, a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual.

Bree is on the verge of having the all-important operation carried out in Los Angeles when a phone call from New York informs her that she has a son who has been incarcerated. It appears that as a man (Stanley), she indulged in one night of wild abandon in college.

Desperate to undergo the surgery but forced by her therapist Margaret (Peña) to explore her parenthood, Bree travels to NYC to bail out Toby (Zegers). The tearaway has been surviving by hustling on the streets of the Big Apple. However, Bree doesn't want her offspring to know that she is his father, so she instead pretends to be a Christian missionary.

She decides to drive back to the City of Angels in order to drop the wayward teenager off at his stepfather's in Kentucky. It then becomes more like a conventional road trip flick. The two disparate characters develop their relationship as their journey progresses, with Bree very much the overbearing mother and Toby every bit the rebellious and often annoying teenager.

Huffman is outstanding. She made this film before she got the gig as Lynette Scavo on over-hyped TV series 'Desperate Housewives'. The clear benefit of taking that part, though, is that her exposure has undoubtedly helped the movie attract more attention.

Her voice, body language and overall demeanour brilliantly illustrate someone clearly not at ease with themselves. It is an extremely difficult role to play and Huffman's performance rivals that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'Capote'. The strength of Bree is that she is completely believable. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of over-sensationalising her, but she comes across as an educated and complex person – warts, hormone pills, penis and all.

Kevin Zegers shows great potential and proves that he has far more to offer than just his boyish good looks.

There is an abundance of comic relief to prevent proceedings becoming too serious. A pit-stop at Bree's family home is a notable event. Writer-director Duncan Tucker just avoids going overboard with the dysfunctional family bit, with Fionnuala Flanagan starring as the Irish Catholic mother humiliated by her son's impending womanhood.

The timing of 'Transamerica's release is unfortunate. Huffman (who collected a Golden Globe on the back of this) would have been a shoo-in for the Best Actress Oscar, were it not for Reese Witherspoon's excellent portrayal of June Carter Cash in 'Walk the Line'.

Similarly, the movie has had a lot of its thunder stolen by the story of a forbidden gay cowboy relationship in 'Brokeback Mountain'. In addition to that, we have had the pleasure of a host of high-profile releases dealing with serious subject matters in the past few months.

Nevertheless, it is a tribute to Tucker's story that it is not out of place in such illustrious company.

Séamus Leonard