Classic Americana Is Turned On Its Head In Powerful Queer Ballad [SXSW 2023]

Much like the ranches and deserts of New Mexico, finding new aspects of yourself you never thought existed can be a freeing experience, and due to the carefree pacing of “National Anthem,” it’s replicated onscreen nearly perfectly. Every action that Dylan takes in his journey feels like a natural progression and as if he’s been holding in something he didn’t even know he was repressing. The seemingly non-scripted flashes of queer life peppered in, modeled after Gilford’s monograph of the same name, also help guide the film’s compelling story. When the movie does shift over to its more scripted moments, Plummer’s performance quietly yet profoundly shifts in a moving fashion. Meanwhile, Eve Lindley gives nuance to an otherwise slightly one-note character in rodeo performer Sky.

However, what arguably makes “National Anthem” stand out from other similar movies is how specifically targeted it feels. It has no interest in holding the hands of straight allies as they explain the importance of communities such as the House of Splendor. It is a story purely about queer people, for queer people and the communities fostered in the face of oppression — this is especially prominent in the film’s quieter moments, where the ranchers are seen casually eating breakfast or skinny-dipping in a nearby lake. What would often be criticized as tedious in other movies both feels and is depicted as sacred here, and that’s for the best.

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