Glasgow Film Festival 2021: Cowboys Review

Continuing with my reviews of films from the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival, Cowboys was one of the films that immediately stood out to me when I saw it on the programme. I’d heard good things about it and I thought it would be an interesting watch and it ended up being a really strong film.

The film follows Joe, a transgender boy who runs away from his mum, Sally, who does not accept his gender identity, to be with his dad, Troy, who does. Spending several days in the wilderness of their way to Canada, the two are eventually followed by the police who want to return Joe to Sally, with matters complicated by Troy being bi-polar and an incident resulting in his medication going missing. Now I found the overall story of the film to be really touching. A lot of this comes down to the performances, which I’ll talk about later, but there is a good heart in the film and it starts with how the film presents Joe. We see the issues he has with being forced into the gender norms Sally sees, viewing Joe as a girl rather than a boy and it shows the struggles that a transgender person that young would face effectively. I also found that the depiction of Troy’s mental health issues was effective and shows the dangers that can be faced if these issues are not effectively responded to. The use of non linear storytelling meanwhile I felt worked in creating a stronger overall picture of the characters, knowing when to show each piece of information about them. The only real issue I had with the story comes with the ending which I don’t think 100% worked, but it is a minor issue.

The performances meanwhile are excellent throughout. The casting of Sasha Knight as Joe was a real blessing for the film. By casting a transgender performer in the role, there’s a real sense of authenticity to the performance, especially when we see his discomfort in being forced to conform to traditional gender norms and the struggle he feels when he comes out to his dad and Knight nails every part of the film. Steve Zahn meanwhile shows the sympathetic and understanding side of the character well, showing his acceptance of his son being transgender well and he also does a good job at showing the mental health difficulties that Troy has. Jillian Bell as Sally meanwhile has a pretty tricky performance. In order for her character to work she needs to be unsympathetic at the start, showing how her rigid ideas of gender norms mean she is unable to see how badly she’s treating her son until it’s too late, asking with showing her realisation and acceptance of her son’s identity in a believable manner. Bell shows the transphobia through lack of understanding effectively, and shows her acceptance of her son well. There is also solid work done by Ann Dowd and Gary Farmer in supporting roles. Adding to the overall vibe of the film.

Overall, I found Cowboys to be a touching look at the struggles faced by the transgender community, as well as an effective father/son story. The ending doesn’t 100% work but on the whole this is a very powerful film.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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