SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! A countless number of films take place in urban jungles like New York and Los Angeles, but where’s the love for the heartland of America? A place where people talk about the upcoming county fair like it’s the Super Bowl. Where like Cheers, everybody knows your name.
Independent movie Okie was filmed in rural Illinois, the same place that the real-life husband and wife filmmaking/acting team of Kevin Bigley (writer) and Kate Cobb (first-time female director) met fifteen years ago. The story follows famous writer “lucky” Louie (Scott Michael Foster), who comes back to his childhood hometown following the death of his father. Louie has been talking a lot of smack in his books about the people and place that he came from, so will that come back to bite him even though the town seemingly loves its homegrown celebrity?
We see right from the get-go that city dweller Louie is having issues with his fiancée Bridgette (Rochelle Therrien) during a phone message while he’s driving into town. It’s a great opening scene that sets the tone because Louie sees places out of his window that you can tell are familiar to him, and without using dialogue, it gives the audience that nostalgic feeling that we’ve all gotten when going back to a place where you grew up.
Louie is picking up his dad’s belongings at his home when he runs into old friend Travis (Kevin Bigley, as a butcher with a big beard and a hat, who always wears a tank top to show off the muscles). They start an awkward conversation about pricey Priuses before throwing back beers and being buds again. Travis convinces Louie to meet up with old flame Lainey (Kate Cobb), and in between hanging out, they each ask Louie (along with other townsfolk) why he described certain people and his hometown in the unforgiving light that he did.
“…why he described certain people and his hometown in the unforgiving light that he did.”
Everything in the film feels authentic and beautiful, from the gorgeous landscape shots by cinematographer Wojciech Kielar to the amazing cast. Kate Cobb and her editor, Joseph Ettinger, keep it at a tight hour and twenty-three minutes long. Cobb and Bigley were inspired by films like Mud and The Florida Project, but Okie has its own unique tone that I really dig.
It features a great mix of comedy and drama that is difficult to pull off, sprinkling moments of levity throughout. Scott Michael Foster busting out a rap song as Louie (that his character made up long ago) is epic. There are also fun little gags about Ellen’s Heads Up game, a cheap skydiving deal, and the town’s obsession with the county fair.
Even though it takes place in a small town, which I’m not personally familiar with, I felt like I could really connect with these characters. They all have universal needs and personality traits, such as Travis just wanting his old buddy back or Lainey longing for a romantic connection. Louie is a guy who, on the surface, has all he wants or needs, but inside, he’s lost, and I think that’s another thing that many people can relate to at certain times in life.
I couldn’t get enough of this world because it is different from the typical movie setting and feel, with the characters being equally magnetic. Scott Michael Foster, Kevin Bigley, Kate Cobb, and the rest of the cast play their parts to perfection. I’m sure that it helped that many of them are actually from that area, but they showed range as well. Okie is the kind of film that feels nostalgic yet excitingly different at the same time, and like hanging out with an old friend, brings you back to a different time and place.
Okie screened at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
"…feels nostalgic yet excitingly different at the same time, and like hanging out with an old friend..."