Review: Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor

Written and directed by Shelley Thompson, after the death of her mother, a young trans woman returns to the family farm where she sees her father and sister for the first time since her transition. Starring: Maya Henry, Robb Wells, Amy Groening and Reid Price.

If you’re looking for a more hard-hitting style drama of someone revealing their transition to their family, that’s not what you’re going to find here. Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor is not looking to create high-tension and gritty conflict, it’s a simple, wholesome and family focused film. It’s much more along the lines of what we’ve seen from films like Rurangi or Cowboys, it brings the conversation about trans into a comfortable, mostly safe, place. The key advantage of that is making that conversation more accessible, one particularly good example is how Thompson includes Dawn’s interaction with curious children, openly and kindly answering their natural questions. That’s not to say that it tries to skirt past the difficulties and discrimination which trans people face, they have a very clear part to play in this story. However, choosing to not bring it right to the forefront and to let the focus remain on the family and re-building their relationships was a smart decision.

Visually it dives right into the country, small town, rural feel. It feeds directly into the sentimental themes of the story, which has its advantages and disadvantages. It can feel overly sweet at times, it easily shows the big heart behind its story but it could maybe benefit from pulling that back a little. There’s a light vein of tension, it’s not overt but it is there when it’s needed. There’s almost a romantic drama style to it, the atmosphere and progression fit a similar pattern. It frames the story to tell of different difficulties which trans people face, rather than focusing on hate and aggression. It takes some quintessential themes of family struggle and secrets, then adds a newer perspective with the help of Dawn (Henry).

Maya Henry leads this cast with a relatable, strong and charismatic portrayal of Dawn. She’s confident and deals gracefully with the attitudes she faces but also isn’t afraid to fight her battles. Henry creates a character who makes discussing trans issues very easy, she’s grounded and open. Robb Wells brings a lot of classic attributes to Dawn’s farmer father but he also makes it feel new, he has slightly closed off emotions and needs to be brought out of his shell. It’s lovely to watch him adjust to her transition, seeing that he makes a genuine effort and wants to make her happy. Reid Price brings a hugely enjoyable and big personality into the mix, he’s a fantastic choice to bring everyone together, presenting the middle ground. He also provides some comic relief, while Amy Groening hits a few cliched points but she does have a strong chemistry with all three. The only thing that dampens it slightly is that the dialogue can be wooden at times, it’s not always the most natural, occasionally falling prey to the story’s sentimental nature.

Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor turns a drama about transitioning and grief into a sweet, big-hearted affair. It touches upon the harsher sides of life as a trans person but also doesn’t let it take over, remaining at its core a story about family. It can be overly cheery or sentimental at times but it’s entertaining and has a wholesome message to send. It’s easy to look past its flaws when it’s also very charming.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2022

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