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New Line Home Cinema presents
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)

"When I'm really moving—moving so freely, so clearly, so delicately the sex maniacs and the cops can only blink and let me pass—then I embody the spirit and the heart of hitchhiking."
- Sissy Hankshaw (Uma Thurman)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: November 01, 2004

Stars: Uma Thurman, Lorraine Bracco, Rain Phoenix, John Hurt
Other Stars: Angie Dickinson, Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, Keanu Reeves, Ed Begley Jr., Carol Kane, Sean Young, Crispin Glover, Roseanne Arnold, Buck Henry
Director: Gus Van Sant

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and some language.
Run Time: 01h:36m:04s
Release Date: November 02, 2004
UPC: 794043749025
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+B+B D+

DVD Review

I have fond memories of reading Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues as a teenager. It was one of those "must-reads," along with most of Kurt Vonnegut's books, that seemed to (either consciously or unconsciously) expand one's mind, opening it up to new possibilities, in a far more amusing and less threatening manner than some of the so-called "head" novels of the 1960s. When I re-read it as an adult, its sexual politics struck me as being rather suspect, and its message seemed unsophisticated, even simplistic, but often it's the most straightforward novels that are most easily translated into films.

After 1991's My Own Private Idaho, director/writer Gus Van Sant turned his hand to Robbins' novel. It's the story of Sissy Hankshaw (Uma Thurman), born with freakishly large thumbs, so it's no surprise that hitchhiking has become her entire life. She's crossed the country hundreds of times, and the habit's so ingrained in her that her thumbs become stiff and sore if they don't get a little hitchhiking exercise every day. She's good friends with the campy Countess (John Hurt), who had the misfortune to be born male into a Baptist family in Mississippi, but he's made good in the Big Apple, and lives in a plush apartment complete with an Asian houseboy. When the Countess' attempts to fix up Sissy with the handsome Julian (Keanu Reeves) go horribly wrong, he has another assignment for her—to appear in a commercial for his highly-successful feminine freshness products, to be filmed at his Rubber Rose Ranch. He warns her to stay away from mysterious medicine man The Chink (Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita) and the lesbian cowgirls who are trying to take over the ranch, but that's easier said than done.

Van Sant's approximately 20-year career has encompassed everything from low-budget indies to mainstream Hollywood films, and even his commercial hits like Good Will Hunting have been well-received by the critical establishment. More importantly, most of them (with the exception of 2002's glacially-paced Gerry) are fun to watch, with well-constructed, somewhat quirky plots that are well-paced. It's a major disappointment, then, that Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is so uneven. Van Sant tries to cram far too much of the novel's plot into the movie's running time, and the opening sequences are so jammed with narrative detail as to be exhausting. The dialogue's almost entirely expository, explaining the characters' personalities and backgrounds, and sounds entirely artificial. It's more than 40 minutes into the film before Van Sant gets us to the ranch, where he gives us a few scenes that allow some relaxation, but even that relief is temporary. If the opening scenes had been completely excised (with the unfortunate loss of Ed Begley, Jr., Reeves, John Hurt, Carol Kane, and Crispin Glover), Van Sant would have had time to concentrate on Sissy's adventures out West, which are the heart and soul of the story.

Although the film is so uneven, there's a fair bit to like, especially in the acting department. Lorraine Bracco as the peyote-chomping head cowgirl, Delores Del Ruby, is appropriately commanding, and the round-faced Rain Phoenix is charming as Thurman's earthy love interest. Thurman herself (who doesn't seem to have aged a day in almost 20 years) is fairly staid as the no-nonsense Sissy, but her almost-bland performance is more than compensated by John Hurt's over-the-top portrayal of the Countess.

In the end, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is a misfire. It looks good, and the acting is quirky and interesting, but the unevenness of the plot makes the film unconvincing and ultimately unsatisfying. Conventional wisdom has it that you should never compare a source novel with its filmed version, because the movie will inevitably suffer by comparison. While I'd argue instead that the real reason not to compare them is that books and movies are completely different animals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, in this case the movie's little more than a clumsy visual translation of the printed word.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The transfer is fine, with good black levels and vibrant colors, even if they are slightly unrealistic, as is typical of films of the era. There are no compression errors.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel sound is good, with reasonable stereo separation and range, and k.d. lang's soundtrack songs are quite enjoyable. The surround channels in the DTS and Dolby 5.1 mixes are much softer than the mains, but even when their volume is raised, they don't add much in the way of atmosphere or directionality.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Proof, Head Above Water
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: The trailers are anamorphic, with 5.1 Dolby sound, and are presented in attractive transfers. Spanish subtitles are also included.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

Director/writer Gus Van Sant has been at the helm of several excellent movies, but Even Cowgirls Get the Blues isn't one of them. Far too much of the source novel as possible is crammed into the film, and not even the quirky and interesting performances can save the resulting jumble.

 


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