Criss-crossing ensemble pieces are a small but distinct flavour of this year’s Sundance London; along with Little Accidents and Hits, Drunktown’s Finest joins them with a slant for interlacing storytelling within a certain location. This time around, we take a visit to a place rich in Indio-American culture with Drunktown’s Finest, a low-budget picture with bigger things on its mind.
On a Native American reservation, a handful of lives are put under the microscope. As they slowly weave together, the traces of their decisions (some good, some poor) sketch a map rich in detail, low in coincidence and big on consequence. They’re the Navajo, and they are three: Nizhomi (Morning Star Wilson) is adopted by a white family and raised without knowledge of her original heritage; Felixia (Carmen Moore) is a transexual, struggling with people’s preconceptions of her and still fighting against the waves of prejudice; and finally Sick Boy (Jeremiah Bitsui), a crook with good intentions who keeps getting pulled into old depraved habits, but trying to find a path that means a better life for him and his pregnant wife. Their paths weave at differing points, the map increasing in richness and forming a true, multi-faceted representation of a culture that is in danger of becoming all but extinct; director Sydney Freeland is our cartographer, and finds some unexplored places along with more familiar ones.
The divide between the modern Navajo culture and the traditional provides a lush, strong backdrop to this movie, but Freeland is wise to keep the focus on these three people, all stereotypes to a certain extent but with the gravity of the culture they sometimes want to escape, but in some cases want to discover; making them multi-dimensional. While Sick Boy’s myriad trials and tribulations smack of seen-this-done-that, containing the most straightforward plot of the three with its guns, drugs and an attempt to escape them, the most emotionally arresting tale is Nizhomi’s. Her quest to rediscover her estranged family feels rooted in the sad reality of the stigma between Native and Colonial American relationships that still blights those parts of this otherwise beautiful landscape, and features a small breakout role for Wilson. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Moore, as her performance as Felixia is constantly stuck in a place where half-developed impulses and student-film reactions see her fall far behind the rest of the talented cast. It’s a shame, as she otherwise exudes an aura that’s immediately seductive – but never convincing.
In the bigger picture – and Drunktown’s Finest is all about the bigger picture – there’s still plenty of the traits to be associated with good Sundance efforts; a hyperlocal context, wide open landscapes that mirror the people in it, and no lack of lyricism – albeit, perhaps borrowed from other movies, like a finale shot in slow-motion, in a similar vein to Short Term 12 last year. But such similarities, including those made with any other recent American movies, are all part of the same parcel – they say something about the country, and Drunktown’s Finest does it especially well. In slowing things down, we get a brief but illuminating look at the map these characters have helped add to, criss-crossing not only their parents’ tracks, but their ancestors’ too. Freeland understands there’s more to be discovered, and hands us the compass. Voto: 3/5. (Gary Green, Heyuguys.com)
‘Sick Boy’ wants to enlist in the Military to provide for his girlfriend and their baby on the way but he keeps slipping into his old habits which get him into trouble. Nizhini was adopted and spent most of her adolescence boarding in private schools far away and is obsessed with locating her birth family. Felixia is a pre-operative transsexual and although lives with her sweet old-fashioned grandparents, still manages to secretly turn tricks to earn extra cash. What all three have in common is that they were raised in a New Mexico Navajo community, and their totally separate stories about finding themselves eventually cross paths towards the end.
Its tougher than normal for these twenty-something year olds as they search for love and acceptance.in a town which has gained a notoriety for having one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the country. The gorgeous but promiscuous Felixia hooks up with Sick Boy when he is high at a party one night. However the drunk angry father-to-be runs off when he realises what he is actually in for when he puts a move on her. When the very earnest religious Nizhini uncovers that her ‘white’ parents have lied about her birth family she also discovers that she has living grandparents and is related to Felixia too.
There is a neat juxtaposition of all three stories in this fresh and realistic look at contemporary life on a Reservation where the excess of alcohol is mixed with the sheer desperate lack of employment. Nizhini escaped by default, and now the other two are desperate to get out too no matter how severe their methods maybe.
What is a very big plus point, is the refreshing way that Felixia suffers no persecution at home at all and her traditional grandparents accept that she has a ‘two spirits’ identity in accordance with their traditions.
It’s an impressive first feature written and directed by a local Native American Sydney Freeland, and is imbued with such sincerity and authenticity that one wants to forgive the patches of awkwardness one gets sometimes from using newbie and untrained actors. (Roger Walker-Dack, rwd5minmovieguide.com)