Drunktown’s Finest movie review: native voices

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Drunktown's Finest green light

Infuses a familiar tale of small-town life and youthful disaffection with a crisp sense of hope teased out of Navajo tradition.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Yes! This is the sort of movie I keep wanting to see more of. Drunktown’s Finest, from Navajo-American filmmaker Sydney Freeland (her feature debut), offers a fresh spin on a familiar tale of small-town life and youthful disaffection that shares the universality of that experience across cultures while also underscoring some surprising differences. Three young people with connections to the Navajo reservation outside of Dry Lake, New Mexico, find themselves crossing paths: Nizhoni (MorningStar Angeline) was adopted out to a white couple after her parents were killed in a DUI car wreck, and now she wants to meet the family that remains; transgender Felixia (Carmen Moore) dreams of being a model but worries about being accepted for who she is; and SickBoy (Jeremiah Bitsui) is about to join the army, if only he can stay out of trouble with the law before his intake in a few days. Freeland juggles already widely examined notions, such as rural poverty limiting options for young people, with a crisp sense of hope to be teased out of Navajo tradition… some of the ideas of which about an individual’s place in the world are lovely and would be welcome brought over the larger American culture. Running right up to clichés and then tossing them away as simply not expansive enough to encompass all the many facets of harsh realities and real people’s options, Drunktown’s Finest is a wise, moving song from a culture that has not had much of a voice on the American stage. I want to hear more.

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