Thursday, 7 January 2010

Try Being Born A Male Russian Countess Into A White, Middle Class Baptist Family.

Following on from my second Swedish film a couple of posts back, we now have my third Gus Van Sant film! Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is, what, his fourth feature, after Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, directly before he went all mainstream with To Die For, Good Will Hunting and the like.

Cowgirls (title is toooo long to type out) has a pretty bad rep. It's rating is sitting not-so-pretty at 3.9/10, which is pretty bad. I didn't think it was his best work (in fact, I'd say that out of all of his work that I've seen, and that's everything but Mala Noche and Finding Forrester - I think I've actually seen the last but I have no recollection - it is his worst), but I'd put it better than that.

Sissy (Uma Thurman) is a girl born to hitchhike - that is, she is born with two enormously oversized thumbs, which also seem to possess powers such that she is always able to get a ride. She doesn't have any one home, instead hitching back and forth across the country, going wherever her ride takes her, sleeping where she can. The Countess (John Hurt) knows her from her time as a successful model, and soon asks her to come to his ranch, which is really a beauty spa for wealthy women, to shoot an advertisement for beauty products with the Whooping Cranes that migrate through his property.

The ranch, however, has been taken over by a team of marauding lesbian cowgirls, led by Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Phoenix), who quickly develops deep feelings for our dear Sissy. As they keep a hold of the cranes, much to the dismay of the nation, law enforcement is called in to try and release them, resulting in tragedy.

Nothing about this film is truly tragic, however. It's myriad movements and plot vignettes hark it back to more drug-addled film days - my first thought for comparison is 1970s Performance, though I haven't seen it in years and years, so I don't know how accurate that comparison actually is. What I'm getting at is that there are numerous little diversions and shifts in where the story are going that stop it from really and truly being a straight through traditional narrative, but not enough to make it a mind-fuck along the lines of what our Central and South American directors have been doing over the last decade or so. So, to some, it might well look like sloppy filmmaking and storytelling, whereas I took it more as controlled stream of consciousness. The comedy in the film is fairly apparent, and the more dramatic moments are always coloured by it, and don't really take themselves seriously. Phoenix isn't particularly strong, but somehow Thurman helps her to pull it off through her over-the-top conviction.

A bunch of bit parts and cameos keep you interested - Roseanne Barr (credited, of course, as Roseanne Arnold), Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Angie Dickinson, Heather Graham, Udo Kier, William S Burroughs, River Phoenix (to whom the movie is dedicated) and Pat Morita are all around - how strange does that read as a cast list?

Anyway, it's ok. Not good, not bad, just average. 2.5 stars.

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