The splendid, simple landscapes of the mountain scenery in Cowboys make way for the complex themes the drama explores.
This tender film about loving your family and children for who they are, not how they’re born, is a fantastic ode and quiet celebration of trans awareness.
When father and full-time screw-up Troy realizes his young daughter is, in fact, a trans boy, he does everything he can to support him. As young Joe cuts his hair short, adopts a flannel look and spars with his mother over his gender, he looks up more and more to his difficult-but-well-intentioned dad.
But after a terrible fight with his mom, Troy takes it too far and brings Joe into the Montana wilderness as a rejection of mother Sally’s refusal to accept Joe’s wish to live authentically.
He becomes a fugitive, and Joe his happy captor as a manhunt begins. As mentally ill Troy tries his best to care for Joe, it becomes readily apparent that both parents, however well-intentioned, have a few things to learn.
Steve Zahn is known best for comedic roles in Sahara, Saving Silverman and other films of that ilk. And yet, time and time again he impresses in more dramatic fare. He out-acted co-star Christian Bale in 2007’s Rescue Dawn, and in Cowboys, he’s eccentric and plays Troy exactly right.
Writer-director Anna Kerrigan’s best move is she lets little silences and her wonderful actors carry the weight. Sasha Knight, as Joe, provides a sensitive portrayal of a struggling adolescent, and her work highlights the film.
Watch for Jillian Bell, also best known for her comedic work, who is unexpectedly tough as no-nonsense mother Sally, who refuses to accept Joe out of her own fears regarding sexuality, gender and how Joe will be seen by others.
It’s a wonderful achievement and a grand showcase for the three actors, proving Zahn and Bell are worth far more than the silly roles they’ve been handed in their careers. They both add a depth and honesty that makes Cowboys an early favourite in 2021.