Jillian Bell (Office Christmas Party) and Steve Zahn (Saving Silverman) play against their comedic type in Cowboys, a solid family drama that could also be interpreted as an unconventional buddy western between Zahn and young breakout Sasha Knight.
Told in a semi-unchronological order, writer/director Anna Kerrigan take a blooming coming-of-age conflict and attaches it to unresolved issues with its surrounding family dynamic. Growing up in Montana, Joe (Knight) often gets classified as a tomboy for how she looks and acts, including her traditional mother Sally (Bell). When Joe comes out as transgender to her wayward father Troy (Zahn), he tries his best to comprehend Joe’s outpouring. But when a talk about Joe between Sally and Troy escalates into a discussion about misidentification and pointing blame, Troy – who believes in his child – attempts to get Joe the freedom his kid was reaching out for.
The jumpy narrative is tough to follow at first considering the film’s time period doesn’t span too long and there’s little physical change in the film’s appearance. But, although it’s jarring, there’s a method to Kerrigan’s storytelling that allows her to cleverly reveal key plot points and characterizations this way.
While the narrative doesn’t necessarily pose a challenge for the actors, the character types are additional, individual challenges for them. The film has an all-around good cast, but the audience marvels at Zahn’s unwavering passion when portraying Troy’s tireless efforts to redeem himself as a good father, Bell’s disciplined frustration as she portrays Sally’s insecurities and jealousy towards others, and Knight’s heartwarming performance as a child who just wants to live their truth.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie