This lovely, big-hearted drama uses familiar cowboy-story elements to explore understanding, acceptance, and gender identity. While it doesn't take many risks, it's as comfortable as an old pair of boots. Written and directed by Anna Kerrigan, Cowboys uses the clichéd image of the outdoorsy "masculine man" -- with his boots, belt buckle, and shaggy beard -- as a kind of opposite here. Whatever stoic, unemotional picture those elements might conjure up is shattered when it's Troy, rather than Sally, who almost immediately understands what Joe needs. (It's important to note, though, that Sally isn't presented as a monster, but rather as someone who isn't able grasp the concept of gender fluidity.)
Cowboy accessories -- including clothes, toys, and books -- are sources of comfort for Joe, a hope for freedom to be who he really is. But images of the great, wide outdoors are blended with paranoia and Troy's increasingly manic behavior after he loses his medication. The traditional chase-through-the-wilderness story doesn't have much tension, but Cowboys seems more interested in compassion than suspense; reaching the physical destination is less important than matters of the heart. Best of all, it's great to see character actor Zahn in a rare lead role, giving everything he has in a great performance.