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Bad Old Days

The-cow-movie-review-winona-ryder
SXSW

MOVIE REVIEW
The Cow (2022)

Starting off as an indie drama before sliding over into thriller territory and then getting slightly fantastical on top, “The Cow” doesn’t have the voltage to jolt any of those departments into vivid life, although it stitches them together with the best of intentions. It hinges on middle-aged characters feeling fragile and insecure in the face of their mortality when confronted by the vigorous young; a solid theme slightly dented by the casting of Winona Ryder and Dermot Mulroney, both of them carrying the quarter-century since they dated in “How to Make an American Quilt” with ease and apparently holding up splendidly.

Exactly why Kath (Ms. Ryder) feels her age around younger boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr.) isn’t entirely clear. Once they clash with the authentically young but also mildly menacing Al and Greta (Owen Teague and Brianne Tju) over a double-booked cabin retreat, Kath is more clearly the odd old-person out; but even then she never seems to be as existentially marooned as the story wants. Max disappears overnight, apparently with Greta, and rather than moving on Kath connects with the cabin’s owner, Nick (Mr. Mulroney), to investigate. Nick, a reclusive nice guy burdened with regret over the inherited genetic illness that killed his father, looks to be mightily in need of a level-headed empathetic mature lady with a salaried job in the green economy; sadly the one he’s just met is stuck on her missing boyfriend.

“The Cow,” directed by Eli Horowitz and world-premiering at SXSW, tries to keep its mysteries alive with a fragmented flashback structure; but when the sharp end of the plot arrives the mystery might not be as weighty as the film thinks (and the thing forming the actual plot motor is made of marshmallow.) Ms. Tju as the caustic scheming Greta has more energy than the other main characters put together, while Mr. Teague glowers and sulks and is lighted to maximize a natural resemblance to Stephen Baldwin. Everyone involved in the story is desperate to avoid the pains and disappointments of our fleshy existence, although real people the age of Al and Greta aren’t normally as worried about that yet as these two are. One of them sarcastically points at Ms. Ryder’s character and says “No one wants to end up like her,” a statement which might be in need of a fact-check.

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