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Country Gold
Image Courtesy of Fantasia

Film

Country Gold Spins a Surreal Encounter of Country Music Legends

Mickey Reece returns with the interesting and surreal Country Gold: a tale of one modern country music superstar meeting his hero, George Jones.

Fantasia 2022: Country Gold Review

They say never meet your heroes, and in the case of meeting country-music legend George Jones (played by Ben Hall), that seems like it might be the case. Set in 1994 and taking place primarily in the regular haunts of Nashville’s country music scene, Mickey Reece’s latest film, Country Gold, centers itself around the intersection of the past, present, and future of one country music star’s life. Remaining as audacious as ever in his commitment to exploring the potential of cinema, Reece ruminates on regret and making peace with old habits during a humorous and surprisingly resonant night of country music debauchery.

Reece stars in Country Gold as Troyal Brooks – a country music legend in the making whose records have outsold pop icons such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. He’s at the height of his fame when a letter from his hero, country music icon George Jones, beckons him to Nashville for a night on the town. Canceling a weekend with his family and a potential gig opportunity, Troyal makes haste to the home of country music to hang out with the star musician.

Country Gold
Image Courtesy of Fantasia

Country Gold finds itself initially weirder than it ends up being, which is not unlike Reece’s last film, Agnes, that saw the writer-director exercising his genre chops before settling into a more ruminative tone. The reason George calls Troyal out to Nashville is perplexing to Troyal: tonight will be George’s last night of consciousness as he has opted to be cryogenically frozen and awakened in the future. A washed-up alcoholic who hasn’t been able to write a song in years, let alone one that would be considered relevant, George’s career isn’t just done – it’s ancient history. 

What ends up transpiring between Troyal and George is a meeting of the past and the present, with the hopes of shaping the future. The conversations that occur range from how to order a steak to stories of incredulous moments in Jones’ life. It’s also a conversation with someone who has shaped his entire persona around a specific country music aesthetic while still being able to maintain some sort of relevancy within the scene that breaks through to the mainstream. That particular intersection of the old with the new is what Jones sees as more than just cute homage but the potential to be a better version of himself.

Country Gold
Image Courtesy of Fantasia

However, Troyal ends up being a more fascinating character in how he carries himself after every interaction in Country Gold. Reece portrays Troyal (who is essentially a caricature of Garth Brooks against the caricature of George Jones) as someone shaped by long-held, naive convictions that grind against his narcissism. With a family at home dying to spend time with him, Troyal finds himself more smitten by the attention he gets from the industry than his fans and family. It’s a fascinating portrait of someone who is at odds with the notoriety they have stepped into and Troyal’s meeting with a hero of his serves as an interesting means of exploring someone’s life at a potential turning point.

Reece’s use of country music icons in a fictionalized version of their lives serves as a little distracting and doesn’t really justify itself, though. As someone who grew up listening to Garth Brooks thanks to a rural upbringing with parents who enjoyed country music more than anything else, it was immediately apparent who Reece was emulating with Troyal. The shorthand imposition of real-life icons never really finds solid footing except to ask the viewer to look up whether George Jones really did attempt to be cryogenically frozen once. It’s a shame because it lifts moments from Brooks’ life and twists them into Troyal’s upbringing, but doesn’t seem to do it for any particular narrative reason.

The fictionalization of history aside, Reece’s strongest moments are always in his characters and their performances. Here Country Gold is no slouch, providing ample opportunity for Ben Hall to continue leaving a memorable impression on Reece’s work. Meanwhile, Reece himself embodies a character with just enough stubbornness and naivety to be entertaining and leave audiences with a tinge of sympathy for him. Surrounded by a group of drunks and groupies, Reece presents Troyal as exceptionally vulnerable but only when his ego is stricken. It’s a performance that can have the same comedic delivery as a Danny McBride while still being unassuming.

Country Gold
Image Courtesy of Fantasia

Country Gold also leaves plenty of audacious moments within that string together the night of conversations and serve as a reminder of Reece’s playfulness within the confines of meaningful character development. Animation, music videos, and what might be the best end credits of a film in recent memory, Country Gold is always willing to inject the new with the old, even as it approaches most of its conversations with a seriousness emboldened by black-and-white photography and moments of genuine companionship.

There’s a surprisingly touching quality to Country Gold that wiggles its way through Reece’s occasionally eccentric filmmaking. He’s proven himself capable of subverting expectations but it’s always refreshing to see a heartfelt reflection on life grow from the sometimes absurd situations characters find themselves in. While stubbornness and ego might remain in the way, Reece and co-writer John Selvidge spin an absurd version of history in a delightfully cathartic way that sheds its quirk to reveal something genuinely moving about what it means to truly be alive.

The 26th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will run from July 14 – August 3, 2022.

Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

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