Country Gold Review: Mickey Reece's Latest Is Hilarious and Heavy (Fantastic Fest)

Off-beat indie filmmaker Mickey Reece returns with his latest reimagining of musical icons, premiering the bizarre fantasy-comedy Country Gold at Fantastic Fest. Though it features gut-busting gags and hilarious allusions to real-life events, Reece's film packs a punch in the end and lands as one of the most emotionally interesting and relevant works of the year. In addition to directing and co-writing the film, Reece stars, playing the part of Troyal Brux, a country music star that is clearly a stand-in for 1990s-era Garth Brooks, and just as awkward as the real guy. Brux's career is on the rise and when a chance meeting with country music star George Jones occurs, it leads to a night he can't turn down and one he won't forget.

What if your idol reached out to you? Not only knowing who you are but wanting to spend time with you, to impart their wisdom. Even for someone poised to break out and reach the heights that we know someone who's totally not Garth Brooks can, it's a tantalizing prospect. Reece plays it with the youthful enthusiasm and apprehension that's universally understood. Frequent Reece collaborator Ben Hall takes on the part of Jones, a fictionalized version of the country icon who is obsessed with the idea of cryogenic freezing and routinely tells tall tales about carrying out assassinations and taking jobs with the FBI.

For most of its run time Country Gold plays into the comedy, languishing in the absurd scenario of two country music icons meeting in a dingy honky-tonk bar in Nashville, Tennessee. To his credit, Hall's take on Jones is one of the main sources of laughter in the film with Reece finding many unique ways to maintain his character's awkward status quo that are just as funny (plus, naturally, plenty of bizarre character actors that appear in just one or two scenes).

Eventually there's a switch that gets flipped, and this calm night out with a new potential friend becomes a larger meditation, one that is focused on the idea of legacy and self. Hall's hilarious version of Jones turns in that moment from one of the movie's biggest clowns to its dramatic anchor. It's here, a scene arriving one hour into the film's 80-minute run time, that it felt like Country Gold grabbed me by the lapels and shook me. The pain and torture Hall delivers, reflecting on how unsatisfying his artistic output has become to him personally, makes him the best performer that almost no one will be talking about come award season.

Despite sounding like a sudden break in the film's dynamic, Reece manages to make the film's thesis clear while also still being hilarious with lines like, "I'm a loyal, faithful, good ol' boy," and, "Maybe you should just get frozen then," peppered in for good measure. For a film with almost no special effects, save a final scene too wild to spoil, Country Gold's ability to deliver a message and maintain a hilarious tone throughout makes it one of the most satisfying movies of 2022.

It seems like only a matter of time before Reece becomes a household name. Not unlike Danny McBride, he's been making his own products and sticking to his Oklahoma roots the entire time. As he chugs away with his minimalist projects that continue to thrill arthouse audiences, Reece's style and interest in unique flavors are poised to break through at some point. In fact, Country Gold seems to be the kind of story that Reece is telling to his current audience before this happens. It's an entire movie about being true to yourself and your art in the face of either a boom of success or total annihilation, and it's one of the year's best.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Country Gold had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest. It does not currently have a release date.