Newcomer Duncan Tucker's exploration of identity and family could so easily have ended up a predictable cross-country road trip movie, running on stale and hackneyed plot contrivances. Instead, the film is so disarming, so likeable and Huffman's Golden Globe-winning performance so truly extraordinary that such pitfalls are largely avoided.
With a deep voice bordering on gruff, heavy make-up and a mousy mop, Huffman is barely recognisable from her blonde Desperate Housewives incarnation, Lynette. In fact, she's barely recognisable as a woman at all, so authentic are her embarrassed smiles, overly studied female gestures and rigid posture - telling of the years this dysmorphic man has spent yearning to be female and despairing with his male form. Attention to physical detail is absolute, from Bree's too-dainty steps over a petrol hose to her hunching down at a bus-stop to look smaller and more womanly. Huffman even manages to effortlessly combine gender traits in a scene where she gets out her prosthetic tackle for a quick highway leak, while simultaneously swishing her skirts in a ladylike manner.
But Huffman's corporeal portrayal is only half the charm of this fully fleshed, sarcastic character. She brings real soul, humour and tentative hope to Bree's personal journey on the road with a boy who doesn't know the charitable woman driving him to LA is actually his long-lost father. Her scenes with Graham Greene, as a laidback rancher who may offer unconventional romance, are hugely endearing, while the moment she breaks down in front of her shrink, with cathartic drool and snot, is heartbreaking.
Tucker's script may follow the traditional route of two mismatched travel companions forming an unlikely alliance (complete with your standard travel impediments) but he adds a capricious spin to their unravelling. Zegers' Toby is certainly no angel, surgery will not solve all of Bree's heartache and there's no cushy ending... Instead Tucker provides a simple framework in which his flawed but engaging characters can interact - and when it's done as unselfconsciously as Huffman and Zegers, it's worth the bumpy ride.
Housewives' Huffman excels with a brave performance that deserves its awards. A warm, funny and moving chick-with-a-dick flick.