BFI Flare: Cowboys (2021)

Director: Anna Kerrigan

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Starring: Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight, Ann Dowd

For her feature debut, writer and director Anna Kerrigan brings alive a folksy corner of America, which is all cowboy boots and apple pie. It's a striking backdrop to the lives of one family, where Troy (Steve Zahn) is at odds with his wife, Sally (Jillian Bell), over their transgender child, Joe (Sasha Knight). While she disregards their child's preference to be a boy, Troy hatches a plan. Intent on helping his son live as his true self, the father and son set off in the night, on a camping trip towards the Canadian border. Meanwhile, the police are soon on their tail.

Leading the cast, Steve Zahn excels as the bipolar father, whose uncontrollable actions have seen him fall foul of the law. Far from a caricature, the role is full of warmth and energy, capturing how much he loves his son, offering support where Joe's mother doesn't. Zahn shares wonderful chemistry with Sasha Knight, who wonderfully breathes life into the role. The young actor commands your attention whenever he's onscreen, capturing Joe's discomfort of being forced into gender roles by his mother, and his joy at feeling free while with his father.

Rounding off the family is Sally, the mother who struggles to accept who her child is, terrifically played by Jillian Bell. From early on, we see she's happy to treat Joe like a doll, dressing up as pairs with her child, and refusing to let who her son is change that. As much as she loves her child, it's her denial of who her son is that drives the narrative. This brings in the excellent Ann Dowd, portraying the cop tasked with finding the missing father and child, and wanting to do it without bloodshed.

Amongst this character drama, flashbacks are interspersed to flesh things out, offering more details to these characters and their relationships. In the midst of it all, there's an unnecessary complication added to the mix, when Troy begins acting erratically after losing his medication. With the police already in pursuit, the stakes were already raised for the audience, and this element feels like a needless way to repeat that. It's ultimately not needed, as the characters have proved compelling enough to make us invested in the outcome. Despite this issue, the film is a charming debut for Anna Kerrigan, detailing a heartwarming tale about acceptance, and a family in need of better understanding.

Cowboys is available on Curzon Home Cinema and Digital Download from 7th May