Review by Sean Boelman
The newest feature from independent filmmaker Anna Kerrigan, Cowboys is not a Western as its title seems to imply, but rather a gorgeous road movie with tons of heart. Thanks to its infectiously heartwarming message of compassion, this is a family drama that is as lovely as it is important.
The film follows a father who is on the run with his transgender son in an attempt to flee to Canada away from the boy’s conservative and intolerant mother. While the beats of this story will be familiar to anyone who has seen other recent movies about a parent and their child on the fringes of society, the impressively timely touch that Kerrigan gives to it allows it to be consistently compelling.
Undoubtedly the most intriguing thing about the film is its character development. In an interesting move, Kerrigan makes this movie more about the parents than the child, although there is just as much, if not more, to learn from their stories as his. It’s a risky and ambitious move that paid off in droves.
What will likely stick with audiences most about this film, long after the credits roll, is the lessons it contains about love. Even though the father doesn’t completely understand what his son is going through, he still showers him with support because that’s what dads (and really, any decent human being) should do. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the world who could take notes in this department.
The always amazing Steve Zahn is better than ever in his leading role, giving a performance that is multi-layered and full of humanity. Trans actor Sasha Knight also delivers a surprisingly complex turn, especially for an actor of his age. Their chemistry together is a big part of why the movie works. Jillian Bell also gives a solid out-of-character performance, but this is very much Zahn and Knight’s show.
Clocking in at a mere eighty-three minutes, the film moves along, and yet it feels like it accomplishes everything that Kerrigan sets out to do. For the most part, the movie has a jovial and hopeful tone, but there are sequences (most of which are flashbacks) that pack a big emotional punch, and Kerrigan is able to find a great balance between these tones.
Visually, Kerrigan’s film is also extremely accomplished. The cinematography by John Wakayama Carey is just gorgeous. The movie taking place in the mountainous areas of the northwestern United States, Carey and Kerrigan had no shortage of gorgeous scenery to use as backgrounds for their compositions, and they took advantage of that opportunity.
Anna Kerrigan’s Cowboys is a sweet family drama for the modern age, and it can’t be missed. Thanks to its great performances and commentary on timely social issues, audiences can expect this film to make it to them sooner rather than later, and hopefully they will be just as blown away by the script’s soul.
Cowboys was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.
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