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USA 1993
Directed by
Gus Van Sant
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
0.5 stars

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Perhaps Tom Robbins' 1976 novel "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" read well but this screen adaptation certainly doesn’t view well. Robbins' outlandish scenario might have worked with a John Waters or someone with a similar taste for the outrageous or perhaps it was just too silly to work at all.  Either way, Gus Van Sant’s bland direction is completely inappropriate to the material, the finished result (apparently re-edited by the director after negative festival screenings) doesn't even make it to the so-bad-it's-good paddock.

Uma Thurman plays Sissy Hankshaw, a girl born with huge thumbs who has dedicated her life to hitch-hiking. An old friend The Countess (John Hurt) offers a job doing an ad campaign for female hygiene products to be filmed on the Countess' Oregon ranch-cum-fat-farm. Once she arrives in Oregon, however, Sissy finds the cowgirl workers, led by Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Phoenix) have taken over the property in a separatist feminist coup…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Frankly no-one is going to care about the silly story which has its roots in the Summer of Love zeitgeist  (Van Sant casts Merry Pranksters Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs in honour of this connection). Perhaps on paper at the time of the book’s publication the ideas resonated with significance but pinned onto the screen nearly 20 years later it’s a pointless ramble that doesn’t even offer any pleasures in its own rights as a film.

The acting is lame, with Rain Phoenix (the sister of River Phoenix, to whom this film is dedicated and who appears uncredited, presumably because he had died by the time of the film’s release) especially weak in this respect and only John Hurt's campy turn as The Countess being of remote appeal, the attempts at humour are feeble and then there are those thumbs – so badly realized that one can’t help but wonder if their unconvincingness was intentional. But given the awfulness of everything else about this film, one suspects not. No-one would make anything this messed-up on purpose.




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