COWBOYS (2021)

February 13, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Marriage is difficult, and adding parenting to the mix brings significantly more challenges. However when the marriage crumbles, the parenting piece becomes even more complex – for the adults and the kids. Writer-director Anna Kerrigan takes that hand and raises the stakes with a husband/father battling a mental illness, a wife/mother sticking to her idealistic vision, and a frustrated child who is absolutely certain they are in the wrong body.

Sally (Jillian Bell) is a loving mother who wants to buy dolls, dresses and “pretty” boots for her daughter Josie (Sasha Knight). The problem is that Josie is more comfortable in the world of her dad – guns, belt buckles, horses, and hanging with buddies. Troy (Steve Zahn) enjoys a bond with his daughter and is appreciative that she likes “guy” things. The best scene in the film occurs when Josie demands to be Joe. Sitting in the truck with dad, Joe claims to be a boy, not a girl. Troy initially laughs it off, but quickly comes around to the seriousness of the situation. Having a transgender child requires more sensitivity than Troy has previously displayed, and he handles the moment well.

It’s Sally who pushes this off as the action of a confused adolescent, and makes a good point about how any child would find hunting and bowling preferable to washing dishes and scrubbing toilets. This of itself makes a strong statement. The interesting thing about Kerrigan’s film is that the transgender aspect is really not the focus. Troy and Joe take off on a camping trip in the Montana forest, with the goal of escaping to Canada. They are each outsiders in their own way, and heading to the country of “nice people” who will accept them is just too good to pass up.

Of course, a parent kidnapping their kid is never the right move, and soon a detective (Ann Dowd) is on their trail. Troy loses his medication and his behavior becomes more erratic, pushing Joe into a spot they are too young to handle. Flashbacks are used to fill in the family history, and show us each character’s flaws and difficulties. The film lacks the dramatics that we might expect given the subject matter, but I most appreciated how Sally was treated as a real person – a hard working woman, a frustrated wife, and a mother who wants the best for her child, even if her path from denial to acceptance is gut-wrenching. The film suffers a bit from the extraneous baggage of Troy’s medication and temper, but the message comes through in the end. As a bonus, we see some beautiful scenery along the way.

Available VOD on February 12, 2021

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