Just about the bravest thing you will see in this well-meaning honest misfire is 10-year old real-life transgender Sasha Knight playing the gender-confounded Joe in what seems like a reverse rom-com to the recent Palmer where a 10year old boy wanted to play with Barbie dolls. In Cowboys (available on Amazon Prime) Joe is a girl but wants to play with GI Joes ( Joe, get it?).
Mother Sally (Jillian Bell) wakes up one morning to find Joe gone. Joe has taken off with his delinquent Daddy who we gather, is not emotionally stable. Troy (Steve Zahn) is on medication which he neglects and ends up acting as hyper as a cat on a hot tin roof. Of course, there are no tin roofs in Cowboys, hot or otherwise. Most of the film is shot in scenic Montana and the cinematography (by John Wakayama Carey) is truly breathtaking.
But the film struck me as being emotionally dried out. It could have been such a gut-wrenching story of a renegade father trying to catch up with a daughter whom he accepts as the son he/she wants to be. The father-daughter bonding in the mountainous magnificence lacks the sensitivity and expansiveness that we expected. Every encounter between Troy and Joe seems incomplete, hurried and sketchy. As though the director didn’t want to be with them too long and would rather let them sort out their problems.
Mom Sally has her own problems with her husband whom she has flushed out of her system but cannot stop from being a father to their child. It’s an intrinsically complex situation rendered disappointingly denuded of depth and layering. Yes, the surface glimmers. But that’s just about. What lies underneath is a sorrowful emptiness. Perhaps sensing a certain dryness in the tone, the director introduces an ageing world-weary but dedicated female cop (played with feeling by Annn Dowd) who must hunt down the fugitive father and his daughter who is not agreeable to being a daughter, and papa is okay with it.
All of this makes interesting viewing. But nothing that would make you jump out of your seat. The sentimental finale could be seen coming from miles away. Steve Zahn seems invested in his hyper-dad’s role. But he has little support from the screenplay which piles on the clichés on the father until he looks like Jon Voigt in The Champ dealing with a very special child.
To design this film as a cowboy western is a good idea. But the galloping horse leaves us with no food for ‘trot’.
Directed by Anna Kerrigan, Cowboys gets 2 and a half stars!
Image source: Imdb, Instagram/ladyannakerrigan, Youtube/Movieclips Indie
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