– Recap of SXSW Film Festival 2023
Directed by Luke Gilford.
Starring Charlie Plummer, Robyn Lively, Eve Lindley, Mason Alexander Park, Joey DeLeon, Rene Rosado and Kimberley Christann Pember,
A 21-year-old construction worker in New Mexico joins a community of queer rodeo artists in search of their own version of the American Dream.
In Luke Gilford’s poetically moving and beautiful shots national anthem, Charlie Plummer plays 21-year-old construction worker Dylan, who understandably berates his mother, Fiona (Robyn Lively), for drinking too much at night and generally not being the best mom to him and his younger brother Cassidy (Joey DeLeon). Just before Fiona takes over parental responsibility again to make his brother’s macaroni and cheese dinner, Fiona claps back that Dylan doesn’t know what it’s like to have a social life.
The above is an early moment that confidently announces that the screenplay (which Luke Gilford is co-writing with Kevin Best and David Largman Murray) will carefully examine this complex family dynamic, as it is true that Dylan seems to avoid confronting his Colleagues mixing up their lunch breaks, which could be for a number of reasons (they seem like boring individuals who just want to talk about getting laid), has no life outside to take care of his brother. Because of this rough upbringing, he may also never have had a chance to experience life as a normal carefree teenager.
Perhaps living in New Mexico and being isolated from modern society won’t help any of Dylan’s problems, who dreams of buying an RV and traveling the world. Nonetheless, a new work assignment takes him to Pepe’s (Rene Rosado) House of Splendor, which he runs with his open relationship partner Sky (Eve Lindley) as an open space for people to explore their gender and sexual identity, set against beautiful Western backdrops. while also participating in southern hobbies such as rodeos. Essentially, it’s a haven for queer people to continue to explore themselves, allowing a variety of people from all walks of life to be seen (and considering Luke Gilford has done queer rodeo photo shoots before, he’s seen those people in handle and gives you the space to express yourself authentically on the screen). Aside from Mason Alexander Park doing a strong job in a key supporting role, one wishes the film had spent more time watching her.
First, Dylan has a massive crush on Sky, going so far as to lie against a rock in the middle of nowhere to sexually fantasize about her. It’s a scene that could easily have gone wrong, but it brings the character’s honesty to the fore and makes everything feel organic and real. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi’s lush visuals and a score by Nick Urata, which largely doesn’t exist unless it swells alongside overwhelming emotion, emphasize that relatable honesty.
Dylan is hesitant and possibly nervous about fully engaging with the surrounding queer community until Sky pressures him and applies drag eyeliner. From there, he goes to the rodeos and becomes familiar with the ranch way of life, questioning and learning more about his identity after finding a community to belong to. His affection for Sky is still there, eventually leading to an erotic threesome that also makes stunning use of the scenery, but instead of creating a love triangle for overworked drama, national anthem wisely takes the position that while Sky has introduced him to something new and beautiful, she cannot commit to her and must move further to discover himself, using this knowledge in these new feelings in his pursuit of happiness and more personal Fulfillment pours in .
Just when you think the screenwriters are playing up the cliché of bigoted mom Angel freaking out that Dylan brought his brother to a show and bought him a dress to wear, they also back away from that and remember to keep things human to hold and focus on earth drama about parenting, regret and love. Charlie Plummer’s performance is as quietly moving as the storytelling is low-key; his body language is half of the incredible performance. Eve Lindley is also notable as someone who is sweet and deeply sensitive, aware of the limits of what she can do for Dylan and what is best for her. It’s a simple, slow-burning coming-of-age story that’s so intriguing because of its diverse community in an unexpected place with a refreshing approach to romance.
There’s a newfound self-discovery you can sense waiting to burst out of it, though national anthem is about more than that; It’s a graceful statement that Western culture doesn’t belong solely to the machismo gunslingers and cowboy stereotypes. Each and every one of these characters is a beautiful representation of a different American Dream and that, in theory, the country is for everyone.
Flickering Myth Rating – Movie: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow mine Twitter or letterboxd or email me at [email protected]