(director/writer: Anna Kerrigan; cinematographer: John Wakayama Carey; editor: Jarrah Gurrie; music: Gene Back; cast: Steve Zahn (Troy), Jillian Bell (Sally), Sasha Knight(Joe), Ann Dowd (Faith Erickson), Gary Farmer (Robert Spottedbird), Chris Coy (Jerry), Bob Stephenson (Sheriff George Jenkins), John Paul Reynolds (Grover), John Beasley (Ben, friendly ranger), A.J. Slaght (Stevie, Sally’s Nephew); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gigi Graff/Chris Parker/Dylan Sellers/Anna Kerrigan; Samuel Goldwyn Films/Limelight; 2020)
“The tender and personal film conveys enough warmth for the sympathetic viewer to feel-good about the gentle story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An unconventional neo-Western that’s written-directed by Anna Kerrigan (“Five Days Gone”). It was featured at Outfest, where an LGBTQ audience related to it and loved it. It’s about a devoted but screwed-up cowboy father, Troy (Steve Zahn), who flees with his 11-year-old transgender son Joe (Sasha Knight, real-life transgender), whose not wanted by his anti-gay religious mom, Sally (Jillian Bell). To help the kid be true to himself, the cowboy takes an impulsive flight from the law with the kid through the Montana wilderness toward the Canadian border while chased by lawmen. Dad, saddled on a white horse after his truck breaks down, is also saddled with mental issues he takes meds for. Nevertheless, the far from perfect man, tries to liberate his son from his hateful estranged wife and offers his son unconditional love instead of normalcy.
The wonderful location shots of Glacier Park and Flathead National Forest as background provide the story with powerful visual backgrounds, while Kerrigan’s sappy writing is earnestly written to favor the kid but the shallow writing becomes its weakness. Though at the Tribeca Fest, it won an award for Best Screenplay, one that I didn’t think was deserved. But it also won a Best Actor award for Steve Zahn, which I thought was deserved. His performance uplifted the film with the love that came across as genuine and strong enough to guide a needy child onward.
The manhunt scenario, the heart of the film, provides the texture for the caring but jailbird dad and his transgender child to bond. The on the lam scenes show flashbacks on how they got to this tragic point and the serious contentions over the child’s gender battle that’s wrestled with at home by the kid and his rigid mom. The conventional mom makes Jo dress as a girl, even as the kid resists wearing dresses by disobeying her by dressing as a boy. By eventually running away as a boy, mom is forced to accept her child on his terms or lose her child forever–which is the film’s message to those facing this problem.
The eccentric lead investigator is Faith Erickson (Ann Dowd), who will have enough time and opportunities on the trail to realize what’s the right thing to do, and will mull over the right way to handle the delicate problem. While father and son flee on a white horse (like John Ford could or would have directed it), we can’t be sure if we’re headed for a happy ending, especially after dad’s meds are lost and he’s wrestling with anger management problems and of trying not to fall apart.
The tender and personal film conveys enough warmth for the sympathetic viewer to feel-good about the gentle story, a story that calls for tolerance and heightens the awareness about gender choices and self-sacrifices families might have to make in these modern times if they want to do the right thing.
The moments that sparkle between Zahn and the kid give the film all the oomph it needs, as the audience hopes for the best for both dad and son–as being in Canada (a more tolerant country than America) and away from the evangelicals (in their extremism, they often fail to follow Christ’s message of love) seems a step in the right direction for Kerrigan.
REVIEWED ON 2/18/2021 GRADE: B