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Cowboys review: A compassionate, sweetly realised drama about the trans experience

Anna Kerrigan’s film finds small ways to challenge the assumptions that lie within gendered roles and expectations

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 07 May 2021 06:34 BST
Sasha Knight and Steve Zahn in Cowboys
Sasha Knight and Steve Zahn in Cowboys (Blue Finch Films)

Dir: Anna Kerrigan. Starring: Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight, Ann Dowd. 15, 86 mins

Cowboys opens with a familiar, and distinctly American, image – that of father and son, out roaming an untamed wilderness of Montana. They’re play-acting some form of masculine mythology. Troy (Steve Zahn), the elder, and Joe (Sasha Knight), the younger, set up camp, tear into a can of beans, and break wind. It’s what they like to imagine the great men of the Old West did. Then we’re shown the home they left behind. Jo’s mother, Sally (Jillian Bell), wakes up to find an empty child’s bed and an open window. “He kidnapped my child,” she says to the investigating officer, Detective Erickson (Ann Dowd).

Anna Kerrigan’s compassionate, sweetly realised drama finds small ways to challenge the assumptions that lie within these opening images. Gendered roles and expectations have become a burden to all involved. It’s gradually revealed that Joe is trans and has only recently come out to his parents – more precisely to his father, who doesn’t quite understand what he’s being told but still commits himself wholeheartedly to protecting his son’s happiness. The same can’t be said for Sally. And so Troy, in a moment of loving desperation, decides that he and Joe should flee for the Canadian border.

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