Playing versions of themselves, the cast of the latest Chloe Zhao (Songs My Brother Told Me) film is made up of non-actors and yet together they have managed to make one of the natural feeling and realistic films you will have seen in a long time. Feels totally intimate. The three family members in the film are actually family in real life. Amazing! Trippy that they are willing and able to portray characters which are so close to themselves. Brave to show all their strengths and flaws. Brave. Beautiful. Hearbreaking. Haunting.
A young rodeo cowboy named Brady (Brady Jandreau – first film) is in the hospital recovering from a serious head injury. Living in the Badlands area of South Dakota there is not much to do other than work on a ranch/farm or be in the rodeo. Due to the injury all this is taken away from Brady. He is advised by his doctor not to ride anymore or he risks his life. Living with his unsupportive and largely absent father (Tim Jandreau – first film) and teenage sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau – first film) who has Aspberger’s, Brady does not really have anyone to turn to for guidance.
He has no idea what he is going to do with his life. A future that seemed crystal clear is now murky as heck. Previously his only purpose was to ride horses and compete. Now he can do neither. The young man has to undertake the tough and rather lonely journey of forging a new path and carve out an identity.
Despite all the quiet and subtlety it is a film that carries a big stick emotionally. The impact is there. While at the same time your heart will break a couple of times you still find yourself hopeful that the situation will work out for everyone. Hard to watch someone who had something in their life that they loved doing ripped away from them leaving not too much in the way of choices in its wake.
The way the film is shot lends to the emotionality of what is going on. Desolate yet beautiful landscapes. Up close and personal shots of human faces and horses eyes. All of it helps to convey the story.
What I like about films, the good ones anyways, is that they can present us with a picture of lives other than our own. We can be entertained and learn at the same time.