Andy Heathcote’s The Moo Man is a film that can make a critic feel like a jerk. Yes, Stephen Hook is a perfectly delightful man, an old-fashioned chap who wants to merely earn enough to keep his farm going and his family fed while also pushing forward his brand of animal consciousness. I’m sure it would be peaceful and engaging to spend time with Mr. Hook on his farm or on one of his morning routes delivering his unpasteurized, warm, pure milk to his loyal customers. I want his company and his farm to prosper and grow and I wish there were more farmers and milk producers like him. Mr. Hook’s worldview, general likability, and incredible ability with bovines is undeniable. However, these facts do not automatically make The Moo Man a successful venture. Heathcote seems to get lost in the marshes with Hook, becoming nearly obsessed with the details of his job to the point that he loses any sense of pacing or storytelling.
Stephen Hook is very, very good at what he does. Not only does he produce stellar milk that seems to send all who taste it into ecstasy but he makes a solid case that the reason he does so is because of how well he treats his cows. Happy cows make great milk. Not only does the caring, nearly fatherly way in which he treats his animals lead to a quality product, his animals live much longer than the average milk cow, producing long past the point where most farmers have lost their milk machine. Heathcote even makes a point not to kill bull calves – as most farmers do since they can’t produce milk – allowing them to live for a few years before turning them into beef cows.
To say that Heathcote follows Hook through the minutiae of his milk-making enterprise would be an understatement. We see scene after scene of milk production, calf-birthing, and Hook dealing with problems in his herd. One cow suffers from some paralysis after giving birth. Another is taken on what is essentially a publicity event as a lovely creature named Ida, clearly Hook’s favorite and the cover model for their milk bottle logo, heads to a neighborhood that the milkman wants to begin servicing. It’s easily the best scene in the film as Ida seems to enjoy the attention, even refusing to get back on the truck and go back home.
From here, The Moo Man becomes a disappointingly repetitive series of similar scenes. Life on a farm isn’t that drastically different from day to day and one calf-birthing would have sufficed instead of the four or five Heathcote chose to film. Nearly every beat in The Moo Man feels repeated and the film’s 97-minute running time could have been trimmed by at least fifteen to result in a more memorable experience. And it never feels like the repetition is intended to illustrate a point – the daily grind on a farm, for example. It’s a film that has a likable subject but that doesn’t adequately make the case that said subject’s life should have been put on film.