There are independent films.
Then, there are INDEPENDENT films.
"Barstool Cowboy" is an INDEPENDENT film.
Filmed on an estimated $10,000 budget, "Barstool Cowboy" is the simple story of Mick (newcomer Tim Woodward), a barroom cowboy devastated by a recent breakup and committed to spending the next three months getting drunk at what amounts to the local honkytonk.
Tim's efforts to wallow in self pity are interrupted by Arcy (Rachel Lien, "For Love of Amy"), a 19-year-old art student who arouses the curiosity of the bar patrons as she sits outside the bar drawing away.
"Barstool Cowboy," on a certain level, feels like a honkytonk version of "The Girl in the Cafe," a marvelous little film about two seemingly polar opposites who find in each other a renewed energy and motivation for life and self-fulfillment.
The strength of "Barstool Cowboy" exists, much as it did with "The Girl in the Cafe," in the relationship that develops between Arcy and Mick and, even more importantly, the ability of Woodward and Lien to sell the relationship with enough intrigue and suspense to keep us invested over the course of the film's 90 minutes.
The film succeeds on both counts.
Woodward embodies Mick with a weathered, yet sympathetic, sensibility that makes you innately like the guy even as it becomes readily apparent why he constantly finds himself in bad relationships.
Likewise, Lien dances a fine line between youthful enthusiasm and flirtatiousness that keeps us wondering constantly where everything will end up.
While I can't say the ending is necessarily a surprise, it does possess a darker tone than expected yet doesn't feel manipulative or tacked on.
"Barstool Cowboy" suffers from many of the challenges that face ultra low-budget films such as occasionally out of focus camera work, as much a result of the smoky bar as it is a cinematography issue. Additionally, the film's script feels like it could have used one more re-working as it occasionally segues a touch too quickly between its comic and more insightful moments.
On the positive side technically, Natalie Ileana's original music proves to be a perfect complement to the film's overall tone.
With two strong lead performances and an intelligently written script, "Barstool Cowboy" is a promising and rewarding example of independent cinema in the Midwest.
For more information on "Barstool Cowboy," visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic