Cowboys (2021)


A troubled but well-intentioned father who has recently separated from his wife runs off with his trans son into the Montana wilderness after his ex-wife’s refusal to let their son live as his authentic self.

Cowboys’ is a sweet comedy-drama about the relationship between a father and a son who take off for Canada to escape their troubles at home. It is a movie about family dynamics through the lens of a bipolar father, a transgender child and a caring, if not accepting, mother, and I thought this was a gentle and warm tale of acceptance and trying to live an authentic life. It also gave me major ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ vibes, but with a more serious edge, and that’s never a bad thing.

The film centres around Troy (Steve Zahn), a father who has gone off the rails after separating from his wife Sally (Jillian Bell), a separation caused by a dispute over their child Joe, who has informed them that he is trans. Troy is accepting of Joe and wants to let him live his life as his authentic self, whereas Sally struggles to come to terms with it – it’s testament to ‘Cowboys’ writing (Anna Kerrigan, who also directs) that we can understand both parents viewpoints whilst still firmly coming down on Troy’s side. I also thought it was an interesting flip of the usual dynamic, with ‘Cowboys’ depicting a situation where the father was the understanding parent as opposed to the mother. This of course doesn’t excuse Troy’s decision to kidnap his son and travel into the wilds of Montana, although I did enjoy that the film directly addressed a question I was pondering – is it kidnap if the ‘kidnapped’ is a willing participant? Steve Zahn is very good as Troy and he has a sweet dynamic with Sasha Knight, who plays Joe, and it’s hard not to root for them even as the situation becomes more fraught.

Cowboys’ clocks in at less than 80 minutes long (minus credits) and it’s the perfect length for a well-paced film that explores a range of themes with nuance and care. Anna Kerrigan’s script balances the comedic elements with the underlying danger and reality of the situation Troy and Joe find themselves in and I was really taken by this movie.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Anna Kerrigan

Starring: Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight, Gary Farmer, Chris Coy and Ann Dowd

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