Fantasy 2022: Country Gold Exam
They say never meet your heroes, and in the case of meeting country music legend George Jones (played by Ben Hall), that seems to be the case. Set in 1994 and mostly set in the usual venues of the Nashville country music scene, Mickey Reece’s last film, Country Gold, focuses on the intersection of the past, present and future of a country music star’s life. Remaining as bold as ever in his commitment to exploring the potential of cinema, Reece ruminates on regret and makes peace with old habits during a humorous and surprisingly resonant night of country music bawdy.
Reece stars in Country Gold like Troyal Brooks – an up-and-coming country music legend whose records have outsold pop icons such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. He is at the height of his fame when a letter from his hero, country music icon George Jones, invites him to Nashville for a night on the town. Canceling a weekend with his family and a potential concert opportunity, Troyal rushes to the house of country music to spend time with the star musician.
Country Gold initially happens to be stranger than it ultimately is, which is reminiscent of Reece’s last film, Agnes, which saw the writer-director exercise his genre chops before settling into a more ruminative tone. The reason George calls Troyal to Nashville puzzles Troyal: tonight will be George’s last night of consciousness as he has chosen to be cryogenically frozen and awakened in the future. An exhausted alcoholic who hasn’t been able to write a song in years, let alone one that would be considered relevant, George’s career isn’t just over – it’s ancient history.
What ends up transpiring between Troyal and George is a meeting of past and present, with the hope of shaping the future. The conversations that take place range from how to order a steak to stories of disbelieving moments in Jones’ life. It’s also a conversation with someone who has shaped his entire personality around a specific country music aesthetic while still being able to maintain a sort of in-scene relevance that breaks into the mainstream. This particular intersection of old with new is what Jones sees as more than just a cute homage, but the potential to be a better version of himself.
However, Troyal ends up being a more fascinating character in the way he behaves after each interaction in Country Gold. Reece portrays Troyal (who is essentially a caricature of Garth Brooks versus caricature of George Jones) as someone shaped by long-held naïve beliefs that clash with his narcissism. With a family at home dying to spend time with him, Troyal finds himself more enamored with the attention he receives from the industry than his fans and family. It’s a fascinating portrayal of someone who’s at odds with the notoriety he’s risen to, and Troyal’s encounter with one of his heroes is an interesting way to explore someone’s life at a potential turning point.
Reece’s use of country music icons in a fictionalized version of their lives is a bit distracting and not really justified, however. As someone who grew up listening to Garth Brooks through a rural upbringing with parents who loved country music more than anything else, it was immediately apparent that Reece was imitating Troyal. The shorthand imposition of real-life icons never really finds solid footing, except to ask the viewer to research whether George Jones really attempted to be cryogenically frozen once. It’s a shame because it lifts moments from Brooks’ life and turns them into Troyal’s education, but doesn’t seem to do so for some particular narrative reason.
Aside from fictionalizing the story, Reece’s strongest moments are always in his characters and their performances. here Country Gold is no slouch, providing ample opportunity for Ben Hall to continue to leave a memorable impression on Reece’s work. Meanwhile, Reece himself plays a character with just enough stubbornness and naivety to be entertaining and leave audiences with a tinge of sympathy for him. Surrounded by a group of drunks and groupies, Reece portrays Troyal as exceptionally vulnerable but only when his ego is hurt. It’s a performance that can have the same comedic performance as a Danny McBride while remaining modest.
Country Gold also leaves a lot of daring moments in this chain of conversations at night and recalls the playfulness of Reece within the limits of meaningful character development. Animation, music videos and what could be the best end credits of a movie in recent memory, Country Gold is always ready to inject new into the old, though he approaches most of his conversations with a seriousness emboldened by black-and-white photography and moments of real companionship.
There is a surprisingly touching quality to Country Gold which weaves its way through Reece’s sometimes eccentric cinema. It’s proven itself capable of subverting expectations, but it’s always refreshing to see a sincere reflection on life developing from the sometimes absurd situations the characters find themselves in. While stubbornness and ego can still get in the way, Reece and co-writer John Selvidge shoot an absurd version. of the story in a delightfully cathartic way that sheds its weirdness to reveal something genuinely moving about what it means to be truly alive.
The 26th edition of International Fantasy Film Festival will take place from July 14 to August 3, 2022.