Writer/director Anna Kerrigan’s sophomore feature film COWBOYS had its Tribeca Premiere Online which is a sign of the times these days. Nevertheless this beautiful touching drama still shone through winning a Best Screenplay Award for Kerrigan and an equally well deserved Best Actor Award for Steve Zahn her leading man.
Zahn plays Troy who’s mental issues contribute to the failure of his marriage and also lands him in jail from time to time. He’s married to Sally (Jillian Bell) a very conventional woman who insists on clinging to her tightly held religious beliefs. However the real love of Troy’s life is their 11 year old child Joe (an incredibly talented Sasha Knight) who has always identified as being a boy
Sally refuses to accept Jo/Joe’s gender identity struggle so insists he dresses up with lots of frills and feminine flounces which so exasperates him, that it looks like it may force him into some sort of mental breakdown.
Troy has always accepted Joe as he sees himself .”I’m not a tomboy. A tomboy’s just another type of girl, but I’m not a girl,” says Joe where he explains to his father why he can’t keep wearing dresses. “Sometimes I think aliens put me in this girl body as a joke. I’m in the wrong body, OK? I’m a boy.“
By this time Troy is estranged from Sally but is determined to rescue his child so he can be his true self. So one night the two of them sneak off in the cover of darkness. Sadly they don’t get too far when Troy’s old truck breaks down so he ‘borrows’ a white horse determined to head for the Canadian border and freedom.
When a distraught Sally discovers Joe missing she alerts the local police failing to tell them that he now has short hair and wears boys clothes. Detective Faith Erickson (Ann Dowd) only discovers that when she finds a photo stuck in the dashboard of Troy’s abandoned truck.
Now the subject of a nationwide ‘missing child’ alert, Kerrigan splits the action between father and son making tracks through the mountains and forests of Montana being pursued by the authorities, and flashbacks of their lives which got them to this point
The unconditional bond between this rough working cowboy father and his transgender son is a sheer joy to behold. Kerrigan’s script captures it so perfectly, as does Zahn’s finely nuanced performance (a career best). It all may be beyond Troy’s cultural background and his understanding, but it is his simple unquestioning acceptance of Joe that makes this such an exceptional story.
It was never destined to have a traditional happy ending especially when Troy accidentally loses his medications and starts to become unhinged. But the presence of the oddball Detective Erickson (brilliantly played by Dowd) who keeps thinking outside the box always has us hoping that father and son may still have a bright future together.
Every drama that has a transgender story line always makes a important contribution to the continuing dialogue about that community, and this is no exception. This misunderstanding of a powerful bond between a father and his son contains lessons for us all.