APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: COUNTRY GOLD (2022)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mickey Reece,

PLOT: Troyle Brooks , a country music superstar on the rise, shares a disillusioning evening with his fellow musician and personal hero, George Jones.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Having kept an eye on Mickey Reece’s previous odd outings, I was very pleased to have finally struck gold: weird gold. Noir-style camerawork, animated intrusions, and the regular unspooling of side-character meanderings make Country Gold an oddball. Call it “bio-picaresque”, if you will.

COMMENTS: Bourbon and balladeering filled my Spring and Summer back in 2012: a time long ago, a decade now, semi-buried in memory and haze. During my brief spell as the front man for a Country Rock band, with my rough-cut baritone and larger-than-life self, it fell to me to translate heartache, brushes with the law, and failure a-plenty into melodramatic foot-stompers. Despite this brush with the genre, I know little-to-nothing about it. That did not stop me from thoroughly reveling in Mickey Reece’s latest feature, Country Gold, which tells the story of a young star’s collision with a faded legend, and the lessons learned over the course of a betimes bizarre blowout.

Reece is making a particular kind of period piece with this film. Much of the movie’s surface hearkens straight to musical biopic, with impromptu encounters between Troyle (Mickey Reece, oozing hay-seed charisma and genuine naivety) and the world around him. Troyle loves country music, loves being a vessel for others’ heartache, and loves George Jones (Reece mainstay Ben Hall)—or at least the concept of George Jones. Country Gold is at its heart a “coming of age” story about Troyle learning awkward facts about the price of fame and the hazards of aging gracelessly.

As straightforward and wholesome as the story proper may be (reflecting, rather nicely, its protagonist), Reece coats his pure-beef narrative with a crunchy-fried layer of uncanny off-kilter. Black and white is perhaps an obvious choice for a period piece, but not-so-much for one set in 1994. Indeed, the whole film is shot more like film noir than biopic, with sharp blacks pooling around soft whites, an aura hearkening back toward the previous mid-century. Strange interludes splash, such as the films-within-the-film whenever Jones regales a (dubious) anecdote.

Despite the black and white harshness around him, and the increasingly abusive behavior of his dinner buddies, Troyle never fails to put his best foot forward, or to have a kind word or quick apology when things go awry. Even during the singularly odd visitation from a black cross-dresser in the men’s room—wherein a mascara hand-off triggers a New Wave hallucination—Troyle never loses his Swell Guy Cool. Jones’ fiery and tear-filled speech at the night’s end, when it’s just the two country music stars alone after a boozy night on the town, lays bare the horrible price Troyle may have to pay.

Troyle observes the seedy eccentricity around him, taking in the quips, the kicks, and the abuse—the animated sequence condemning Troyle’s “steak, well-done” restaurant order is a mean-spirited hoot—while somehow keeping jaundice from creeping into his wide eyes. And don’t you worry, friend: misgivings about our homespun hero are allayed, more or less, by the closing number, performed in utero by Troyle’s unborn baby boy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This film is certainly not as weird as some of [Reece’s] earlier works… hovers in this awkward space between being maybe slightly too unconventional for a normal crowd but not strange enough for midnight film fans.”–Mike Vaughn, Geek Vibes Nation (festival screening)

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