SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Back in 1994, Madeline Stowe, Drew Barrymore, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Andie MacDowell donned cowboy hats in Jonathan Kaplan’s pseudo-feminist western Bad Girls. Now, Sarah Brennan Kolb’s documentary, Good Ol Girl, focuses on three real-life cowgirls, who challenge our preconceptions of what that term stands for. As one of the interviewees in the Texas-set film states, “Well, what are you gonna call them? Women with a recreational interest in livestock?”
The primary subject is rancher Mandy Dauses, who’s so passionate about her work, she’s sacrificed having a family for it. A man does exist in her life: John, who demands that steaks be prepared to his liking by the time he arrives home… and then gets tacos on the way instead. “If I weren’t cooking, I’d be in trouble,” she says. Mandy gets emotional talking about her dreams, to “have a partner that wants the same… a husband that I want to work beside.”
There’s a permeating sadness to her everyday routine, as she stitches wounds on gargantuan bulls, sells some of her stock, and casually inserts her arm, elbow deep, into an animal’s anus. The despondency level peaks with a striking, horrific image of a dead cow, its newborn calf halfway out of its body, a vortex of flies hovering over their carcasses.
“…focuses on three real-life cowgirls, who challenge our preconceptions of what that term stands for.”
The other two women’s lives are somewhat more sketchily covered. Attorney Sara Lemoine Knox goes hunting with her overbearing dad, from whom she received her first piece of property at the young age of 12. When Lemoine informed her father that she was going to attend law school, he was devastated. Kolb shows her addressing the old man head-on about his post-mortem plans. Then there’s the 24-year-old Martha Stamos, who comes from a long lineage of ranchers, and is now struggling to find a job in an increasingly commercialized world.
The shadow of men hangs heavily over the three women, whether it’s their absence or forceful presence. Though strong and independent, interestingly, Mandy still uses men as a benchmark of sorts for her own achievements and longs for companionship and support. That said, her femininity is an essential part of her. “Even if I do a man’s job,” Mandy says, while applying make-up, “I like feeling girly.” Similarly, Lemoine seems to both long for and dread the passing of her father. The prospect of handling all that land while being a successful lawyer is daunting, to say the least.
Good Ol’ Girl isn’t the most riveting doc, nor will it haunt you for days. It’s a bit repetitive and a tad meandering, sidelining two of its three heroines. But there’s a lyrical, existential sadness to it that’s undeniable. Kolb displays how increasingly difficult it’s become for landowners to hold on to their properties. “It’s a dying art,” a rancher laments. Perhaps these cowgirls represent the future of ranching.
Good Ol’ Girl was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.
"…Perhaps these cowgirls represent the future of ranching. "