In the tradition of “Midnight Cowboy” and “Drugstore Cowboy” comes another film with the word “cowboy” in the title! I don’t mean to undermine this film’s offbeat charm with this jokey intro, however. Mark Thimijan’s feature-length debut may not deliver the laughs its amusing premise promises, but it’s likable enough to carry its short running time, and leading man Tim Woodard’s appealing performance anchors the film nicely.
“Barstool Cowboy” opens with a deadpan expository monologue by Mick (Woodard), a downbeat barfly in alligator-skin boots. He stares into the camera and mourns a recent break-up. It’s like the heartland’s answer to Woody Allen’s first words in “Annie Hall.” Thimijan obviously means to burn this image into the audience’s mind, and it works.
Mick, whose last girlfriend claims that he hid behind his beard, vows to start over, shaving and committing himself to sit on his favorite barstool for three straight months. As he sits, drinking bottle after bottle of beer and not getting drunk at all (probably because he’s drinking Bud Light), one of his friends notices a smart-alecky female art student (Rachel Lien) standing outside and drawing pictures of the bar. Mick puffs out his chest and steps outside to deliver a “We don’t take KINDLY!” speech to the girl, Arcy, but finds himself oddly attracted to her. The rest of the film focuses on Mick and Arcy’s two nights of casual dating. Mick believes that Arcy brings out his better qualities, and he’s inspired to get a job to finance their dinner dates. The pair introduce each other to all of their hobbies and tastes: he tries chicken vindaloo, and she learns to square dance. After a while, however, Arcy grows distant, and Mick is left wondering if their relationship is meant to last.
For all of its enthusiasm, the film is a little uneven. Thimijan has the setup for a truly funny comedy, but only a few scenes rise above mildly-diverting. In between the peppy montages, the film does offer some interesting observations about relationships, but they feel out of place in a film where the main character concocts a wacky plan to cheat on a drug test. Yes, this plan involves urine. Also, the photography is a little murky at times. The shots are framed competently, but some of the indoor locations look as if Cancer Man from “The X-Files” passed through recently. “Barstool” is unquestionably the smokiest film of 2008.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel a certain affection for this project. Woodard leaves an impression, especially with a shot of Mick staring sadly into the camera for at least a minute, his expression changing subtly over time. This shot has been done before, but any actor who can make it work is a genuine talent. This is a promising debut by a talented group, and I hope to see them hone their craft in the future.