Friday, January 31, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Horse Girl

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Horse Girl
Directed by Jeff Baena

Some people see the world in pretty wild ways. They may not convey their openness to the unusual to others, and their beliefs only become apparent when a major life event happens that gets them thinking or sends them on a particular course. What they hold to be true or possible may surprise those who know them best, unaware that they subscribe to such notions, and they can be quite jarring and alienating to friends and family who don’t agree or have their minds more closed off to the unknown and unlikely.

Sarah (Alison Brie) lives a low-key life, working at a crafts store with her kindly colleague Joan (Molly Shannon), hanging around the stables where the horse she used to ride as a child is now ridden by a new generation, and watching her favorite supernatural TV series each night. When Sarah starts to have strange dreams, she thinks back to her mother and her grandmother’s history of mental illness, and begins to wonder whether they were actually crazy or just more aware of something else - like, say, an alien abduction. Sarah’s life begins to spin out of control, inviting support from a new potential love interest, Darren (John Reynolds), and condemnation from her roommate (Debby Ryan).

This is the kind of film that starts out as one thing and then mutates entirely into something else. Sarah is quirky and hopelessly nice, immune to negative thoughts and to the reality of how others perceive her. She comes to the stables offering to take care of her horse and can’t comprehend that her presence isn’t welcome, but she exudes such a genuine desire to help both there and when she’s at her job. Meeting Darren opens up something she’s never experienced before, and his willingness to accept what she says makes her feel even more hopeful, until things come crashing down and she realizes that her out-there beliefs seem crazy to everyone else.

Brie, who co-wrote this film with director Jeff Baena, is undoubtedly the right choice to play this part, bringing sweetness and sincerity to Sarah and then an intensity that serves the character well. Shannon and Reynolds fit their parts exactly as they should, with none of the rest of the supporting cast standing out all that much. This film is intriguing and inviting at its start but then spirals downwards with its main character, indulging her unique perspective in a way that’s mystifying in an unsatisfying way. There’s something interesting to be explored here, but this film goes overboard in its determination to find it.


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