COWBOYS

★★★

SADDLE UP FOR AN EMOTIONAL RIDE

MELBOURNE QUEER FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Brent Davidson
16th March 2021

How far would you go for your children's happiness? What if it meant risking it all? Your marriage? Your mental health? Your freedom?

I think most parents would say they would go as far as they needed to.

Which brings us to 'Cowboys', an almost coming-of-age film set in rural Montana. Troy (Steve Zhan) is a well-intentioned father and obvious favourite parent to Joe (Sasha Knight), with mother Sally (Jillian Bell) never quite understanding their relationship and having some clear jealousy towards it. Someone's always gonna be the fun parent and someone's always going to be the parent with the rules. When Joe tells Troy one night after some gallivanting in Troy's truck that they are not comfortable in their body and are transgender, Troy in a (somewhat) surprising turn of events becomes Joe's biggest advocate, trying to turn Sally's mind around, and eventually somewhat absconding into the night to live out the ultimate border crossing cowboy fantasy.

'COWBOYS' TRAILER

I said before that this was an almost coming-of-age film, and it's probably time to explain what I mean. When a film has themes of transgender identity it's often the primary focus, they are the character we look to identify and empathise with as they grow into their true selves. While this is definitely the case for 'Cowboys', the same can also be said for Troy, the father figure leaving his arrested development life behind and stepping up (and growing up) to be the father that Joe needs. You could therefore say it's a double coming-of-age film, beautifully crafted side by side - because what's a cowboy without their partner?

The rural landscape is a perfect backdrop for the isolation all the characters feel in their lives, be it Joe, Troy or Sally. The slow scenery is in total juxtaposition with the internal speed they are moving with. I am quite partial to queer stories in rural settings; I'm not sure exactly what it is, but if you think about the impact of films like 'God's Own Country' and 'Brokeback Mountain', the landscape was almost another character within the film. The narrative device of a broken timeline, operating in flashbacks and present day, while done often feels right. It lets us know that although Sally doesn't understand Joe's lived experience, a parent's love will push through. I especially enjoyed seeing Joe become slowly more entranced with the hyper-masculinity of the "cowboy culture" that surrounds him, as well as the denim and plaid that goes with it - it's also why I think the absconding through the mountains on horseback had such appeal, allowing Joe to complete the circle of who he is.

The rural landscape is a perfect backdrop for the isolation all the characters feel in their lives.

'Cowboys' is a delicate, powerful and poignant film. I think I was most impacted by the final scene of the film (no spoilers), but it's a reminder that the innocence and acceptance children have is always a ray of hope against any intolerance and bigotry they may be born into.

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