SXSW 2022 Review: The Cow

A bad couple making bad decisions is always a chore to watch as a movie progresses to its end. One questions how come they stay together for as long as they do, but there’s also the question of why they take the (predictable) routes they take in their story. And that’s exactly what happens with Eli Horowitz’s The Cow, a film in which its central characters are not just flat, but also tedious to watch. And the mystery that surrounds said characters is a flaccid one.

Kath (Winona Ryder) is in a relationship with the much younger Max (John Gallagher Jr.). Despite being together for a year, there’s no reason the two should be continuing their relationship. She’s the more mature of the two, while he’s all about partying and having fun. Max makes more decisions that work best for him and then, sometimes, includes Kath in the conversation.

Ladies: Don’t be like Kath. If your man continuously does this, end the relationship.

One night, the two decide to take a trip from Oakland to some cabin in the woods. What was initially thought to be a getaway with just the two of them turns into more as they encounter another supposed couple, Al (Owen Teague) and Greta (Brianne Tju), who state they had the place booked before they did. I say supposed couple because Greta states she and Al are not actually together in the “cisnormative” and “consumerist” way – whatever that means.

Rather than fight over who gets to lay claim to the cabin for the weekend, Max thinks it’s a great idea for him and Kath to share it. Kath objects but then later concedes. The next morning, Max disappears, as does Greta. Al says he saw the two run off together.

This is where The Cow should become more intriguing, despite the fact that the characters are mostly obnoxious and don’t make the best decisions. There should be a sense of wonder as to what happened to Max and Greta, and why they decided to run off together. But it all feels so vapid in its delivery that the 93-minute runtime feels like an eternity.

Kath decides to connect with the cabin owner, Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney), to see if she can somehow reconnect with Greta to get to the reason why Max ran off with her. Obviously, Nicholas is unable to hand out personal information, but he does decide to help Kath.

The Cow flashes back and forth between the present and the past, showing how the relationship between Kath and Max had its strains in the early stages. Dinner with Kath’s friends has Max feeling insulted and worthless, as they don’t think much of him. It also shows how, after this scene, other key elements of the film fall into place and makes sense as to where it fits with the present story.

Even with all the pieces coming together, and a big reveal at the end, The Cow has no spark or sense of urgency in its direction. There’s nothing that makes it seem like the viewer should care about anything in the movie.

Ryder is committed to her role, even when the script doesn’t give her the best lines. Mulroney is fine, and there feels like there is some kind of connection between Nicholas and Kath, but nothing is fleshed out. Teague, Gallagher, and Tju are all overdoing their parts.

The Cow is bland from the beginning and then attempts to make up for its blandness by throwing in a third act twist. But by that time, the interest in the film has already waned and the result is less of a shock and more of a shrug.

David Wangberg

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