Like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, Anna Kerrigan’s wonderful second feature employs the Western genre as a way of undermining gender stereotypes.
Troy sets off with his trans son Joe into the rugged mountains of Montana, hoping to forge a path to Canada. Joe’s mother Sally realises too late that Joe has left, while local Sheriff Faith believes she is looking for a missing girl and her father until she sees a photo of Joe dressed in conventional cowboy gear. Realising the situation is more complex than she originally assumed, Faith embarks on a journey to bring Joe and his father home before the find themselves in greater danger.
Kerrigan’s gorgeously shot, beautifully acted film is a plea for understanding and acceptance. Sasha Knight is excellent as Joe, but it is Steve Zahn and Jillian Bell’s impassioned performances as his parents, one embracing the other denying his identity, that drives the film, alongside the ever-reliable Ann Dowd as the sympathetic face of local law enforcement. Like Ang lee’s Oscar-winning drama, Cowboys successfully uses the iconography of the Western to question the nature of masculinity, whilst embracing so many of the elements that have made the genre such an enduringly popular part of cinema.