‘Country Gold’: Fantasia Review | Comments
Dir: Mickey Reece. WE. 2022. 82 minutes
A melancholy meditation on art, aging, regret and fame, Country Gold chronicles an increasingly surreal evening shared by a rising country star and his musical hero, true genre giant George Jones, even if the direction ultimately proves more intriguing than the execution. Filmmaker Mickey Reece drapes the proceedings in dreamy black and white, a visual strategy that suggests events take place in a parallel universe, which resembles ours in some ways but is capable of drifting into the fantastical at any moment. The mix of deadpan weirdness, showbiz satire and genuine pathos is inviting without ever fully connecting.
What is potentially bewitching Country Gold is that it transcends the ordinary, creating a whimsical new reality
Rec (Hunter’s Climate, Agnes) is a veteran of the Fantasia Film Festival, where his latest premieres. Joined by frequent collaborator Ben Hall, who portrays the obnoxious and thoughtful Jones, the director and costar is looking to build on the cult following of his previous images, though Country Gold is such a proudly idiosyncratic creation that it won’t automatically appeal to hardcore Jones or country music fans. A modest play seems likely.
Country Gold is set in 1994, introducing us to Troyal Brux (played by Reece), a fictional country singer from Oklahoma who begins to dominate the charts. Presenting himself as a serious man with a beautiful wife and photogenic children, he is delighted to receive an invitation to dinner from the legendary George Jones (Hall). But after Brux travels to Nashville to meet his idol, the weathered icon greets him with shocking news: Jones will be cryogenically freezing in the morning, wanting to spend his last night with this newcomer.
The film has fun concocting this invented scenario, lightly poking fun at certain country music clichés while imagining what this sometimes controversial encounter would be like. (Reece worked in the same vein for 2017 Mickey Reece’s Extraterrestrialwhich was a fictional insight into Elvis Presley’s relationship with his wife Priscilla.) The revelation of Jones’ ulterior motive gives the image, with its quirky sense of humor and striking monochromatic look, a jolt additional unpredictability.
Unfortunately, neither character is particularly compelling, with this meeting of two generations of country stars surprisingly underwhelming. There is a general idea that Brux represents a watered-down new version of country that lacks the authenticity and macho swagger of the Jones era – that the music has sold its soul in gaining mainstream acceptability – but Country Gold does not do enough to develop this idea. (As Troyal’s last name suggests, the character is meant to be a stand-in for Garth Brooks, a 1990s megastar who gave the country a slick pop shine.)
Instead, the film sends the characters on an odyssey fueled by drugs, beautiful women, self-loathing, and random asides. (Jones brags to the young man about some of his truly bizarre misadventures, including helping the FBI in an undercover operation, which are presented in factual flashbacks, as absurd as those tall tales may be.)
Reece plays Brux as an insecure star who initially resists Jones’ suggestion to have a debauched evening, eventually giving in and trying cocaine. But Country Gold fails to become a memorably lopsided evening, and the dynamic between Brux and Jones doesn’t grow any more compelling as the night progresses. The possibility of sex and danger looms over the narrative — there’s no shortage of women who want to sleep with both men — but the film never gets particularly bizarre. Even when the film slips into a random, trippy non-sequence — for example, Brux speaks to a stranger in the bathroom who ominously warns of the coming Y2K crisis — the impact is frustrating.
Hall doesn’t necessarily look like Jones, and he’s not supposed to, but the actor embodies the straightforwardness of the musician’s work. That said, because Country Gold doesn’t spend much time digging into the complexity of the character, Hall mostly plays attitude, with Jones’ later emotional outpouring about the limits of a legacy hinting at what could have been explored further.
The beauty of country music lies in its ability to transform shared experiences into indelible anthems. What is potentially bewitching Country Gold is that it transcends the ordinary, creating a whimsical new reality where anything can happen – sadly, however, not valid enough.
Production company: Betmar-Héliand
Contact: Zac Locke, Executive Producer [email protected]
Producer: Kassie Gann
Screenplay: Mickey Reece and John Selvidge
Director of photography: Samuel Calvin
Production Design: Kaitlyn Shelby
Editing: Mickey Reece
Music: Nicolas Poss
Main Cast: Ben Hall, Mickey Reece