Review by BigBadWolfBoy
Crazy-ass Headscratchers. I don’t have a problem with movies that mess with my thought sponge. I don’t mind when a director asks a bit more from me than to simply watch a movie, understand exactly what everything means as it’s happening, and then promptly move on to the next film. I enjoy films that require some thought. As a matter of fact, some of my finest movie-going memories come from slapping myself a few days after watching a difficult movie and exclaiming (usually to the denizens of my local 7-11 near 3am) such gems as, “Sweet Jesus Christ in a cup! Of course a tiny porcelain doll hatches from a bird’s egg! It’s all so clear now!”
Gregory Hatanaka’s 2006 outing Mad Cowgirl, however, belongs to an annoying subgenre of the Headscratchers line that I find particularly tiresome, and that’s the “How Much Of This Is Real?” variety. I don’t have a lot of patience for movies that constantly beg the question “How Much Of This Is Real“, and that’s because few of them ever actually provide an answer. Again, I do not need entire movies handed to me on a plate with an indexed explanation, but I do need a touchstone of reality, and that’s something missing in many movies of this type.
Including, as I type this and sigh, this one.
Mad Cowgirl stars Sarah Lassez as Therese, a meat inspector with an unhealthy attraction to things she shouldn’t be attracted to- red meat, her brother Thierry (James Duval), religious leader Pastor Dylan (an unfortunately shirtless Walter Koenig), and a 70’s throwback Kung Fu show called The Girl With the Thunderbolt Kick.
At some point Therese may or may not have eaten tainted meat. At some point Therese may or may not have gone on a killing spree. At some point Therese may or may not have done the Herky Jerky Martian Hula with her own brother. It’s hard to tell, which is why I have a problem with this style of movie. Once a director opens up the “How Much Of This Is Real” floodgate, it takes quite a bit of talent to keep the dam from bursting. And though Hatanaka shoots this film with skill, and the editing and musical choices are interesting and compelling, he doesn’t ground any of the sequences in reality, and so the film becomes an exercise in theory right from the beginning.
I can argue that Therese never had an affair the with unfortunately shirtless Pastor Dylan. I can argue that she never even met him. I can argue that she has no brother, that he is simply a projection of her male half. Hell, I can argue that Therese doesn’t exist at all, that instead Thierry is the main character and the entire movie is his extended hallucination of being a sister he’s never had who then falls for her brother as a sort of justification for his incessant desire to screw himself! It’s all up for grabs, baby, cuz nothing is real since the dam DID burst and now the poor Wolfman is being washed away with Frankenstein’s monster and the world is in chaos.
Another issue I have is that while Hatanaka is clearly in love with 70’s grindhouse cinema, he drops the ball when it comes to bringing the grindhouse spirit of Mad Cowgirl to the forefront. He shows such promise, though. The movie starts out with a few fascinating sequences- the first being an overture, and the second being a PSA. The overture is comprised of a screen card that says simply ‘Overture’ above a tiny photo of a cow, whilst in the background poppy elevator music pings away. This holds for close to a minute before the PSA come on. The PSA itself is an authentic-looking (and goddamn awesome) ad for Vegeterianism from 1970’s Hong Kong.
Those opening sequences are fun, so it’s unfortunate that the rest of the movie takes itself so seriously. Hatanaka knows his grindhouse history. If he would have lightened things up a bit and embraced the sheer insanity of Mad Cowgirl’s elements, this could have been a great movie! I mean, we have incest, murder, meat, an unfortunately shirtless Chekov as a sexed-up televangelist, a girl with a thunderbolt kick, lots of nudity, and folks talking in foreign languages FOR NO APPARENT REASON while our heroine responds in English as if nothing’s up! Why oh why does it all have to be so ploddingly serious? I’ve read reviews that go on about how tongue-in-cheek this movie is, but all I saw was a director earnestly trying to make connections between meat and sex and addiction and blood and responsiblity dependency and meatwagons full of other things without making a single damn thing clear. It’s about as tongue-in-cheek as an Oliver Stone movie.
That said, Sarah Lassez kicks ass as Therese. She handles all aspects of her role well, which says a lot considering how much veering across multiple lanes of narrative traffic this movie does. I already mentioned the camerawork, editing, and soundtrack but I’ll do it again. They are exemplary.
I just can’t recommend Mad Cowgirl. Its exploitative elements and insistence upon weaving in and out of various dreams and realities certainly keeps it from ever being boring. But in the end if you don’t know where reality stops and dream begins, all you’re left with is unanswerable theory.
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