Cal (Owen Teague) returns home to care for his dying father who is on life support in the living room of the picturesque home he was raised in. Montana Story does not overly romanticize Montana or the situation like most films set there have. Cal shoulders the burden alone and sets straight to work getting his father's affairs in order: tackling bankruptcy and lapsed mortgages, selling off his late mother’s vehicle to cover what Medicaid doesn’t pay for in-home care, and dealing with selling off the ranch
Montana Story is a Beautiful Exploration of Childhood Trauma and Reconciliation
As Cal plans to put down the lone twenty-five-year-old stallion remaining on the ranch, his estranged half-sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) shows up unannounced. The siblings haven’t spoken to each other in seven years, not since their father beat her nearly to death for speaking out against him in their high school newspaper. Cal feels conflicted because, to him, Erin abandoned him, but Erin left because Cal had stood idly by while their father beat her and killed her horse.
When you think back on the previous body of work depicting adult children returning home to deal with a sick or dying parent, you likely picture actors in their mid-thirties up into their late-forties. Sure, there are films that feature the twenty-something younger sibling, but films that solely focus on twenty-somethings who are grappling with this situation are few and far between. Montana Story has a marked millennial element to it that makes it a refreshing addition to this niche genre of films.
Montana Story is lush with gorgeous panoramic cinematography that captures the beauty and magnificence of the state, but it also captures a distinctive feeling of isolation which helps to underscore this sense of bare-bones emotion that is evoked by Cal and Erin’s situation. Teague and Richardson are spectacular on screen together, as they pull such rich emotions from one another while they search for a path towards reconciling with their childhood and moving forward in a tenuous situation.
While Cal and Erin's story is the center point of the film, there are subtle nods and allusions to larger issues at play in Montana. The incident between Erin and her father was sparked by his cover-up of a toxic mess at a local mine and the radio in Cal's car discusses the Dakota Access pipeline. Given their father’s involvement in stripping natural resources from Indigenous land, I wondered why their housekeeper and family friend Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) and her son Joey (Asivak Koostachin) remained loyal to the family. But perhaps that answer lies within the blink-and-you-miss-it commentary that the local grocery store is reducing her hours. When jobs are sparse in middle-of-nowhere Montana, sometimes you have to make tough decisions about who you work for.
Montana Story was my first introduction to the writer-director duo of Scott McGehee and David Siegel and it has inspired me to seek out their other films. They have a real knack for capturing visceral human emotions and exploring them through quiet means. There is nothing showy or overwrought in the script, which focuses on stripped-down, barebone emotions, and the direction captures a very realistic slice-of-life portrait that makes the film really connect with the audience.
Montana Story had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. A release date has not yet been announced.
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