SXSW 2020: GOOD OL GIRL

Disclaimer: This film was previewed before the intended premiere and cancellation of SXSW 2020.

When one thinks of the American West, nothing captures the spirit like the state of Texas. Yet, like many landscapes throughout the country, Texas is finding its landscape changing. With the commercialization of land, the art of ranching is finding new hardships – both in the land cared for and those providing it. With Good Ol Girl, from director Sarah Brennan Kolb, the ever-changing landscape of Texas is capture, showcasing the evolving role of those tied to the land and those who want to keep it alive.

Yet, what makes Good Ol Girl successful is not in just capturing one perspective, but rather the perspective of three individual cowgirls, each with their own representation of the changing landscape and a societal mindset. Coupled with the aspect of womanhood, Good Ol Girl is not about being better than men but doing the same tasks. When there is a job to get done, it’s about who can do it right.

With Good Ol Girl, you get exactly what is promised. This is a documentary about good girls and good ranchers – and the product of change.

Mandy

A general manager for a local ranch, Mandy is the first cowgirl viewers are introduced to that fully represents the progression of Texas merging the old with the new. While not originally from Texas, having moved there from Virginia, Mandy has dreams of running a ranch – maybe even having one of her own in the future with a partner of shared interests beside her. As she moves through the ranch, completing her tasks, there is a pure passion that resonates. She is welcomed and regarded as a knowledgeable and capable rancher and manager. As she says “It’s not about being better than men, it’s about doing the same task”.

She lives and emulates this, suturing injured bulls, managing purchases and sales, maintaining the health and well-being off the livestock – just to name a few. Yet, where she has assimilated to the culture of a cowgirl, completing the same tasks as a man, she has assimilated and maintained the societal role of a woman as well.

SXSW 2020: GOOD OL GIRL
source: SXSW

She is still expected by her boyfriend John to have dinner ready to be eaten when he arrives home. She hides her smoking habit from her boyfriend and the husband of her friend as it is not approved. The deepest moment being when she finds out she is pregnant, the look on her face acknowledging that she will have to choose between the career she loves and the family she desires. This is only reinforced after she miscarries, and she admits to the camera that this might not have been the right time. As a cowgirl, she can not have her cake and eat it too.

Audiences will find such an emotional pull to Mandy through her story, passion, and dedication. The heart of Texas lives in her soul, her passion a guiding light for the future of ranching.

Lemoine

Audiences will have been briefly introduced to each of the women in Good Ol Girl early on through the film’s opening segment. When we are formally introduced to Lemoine, as a viewer, I feel as I have already known her. In the beginning, she talks of the city and the greater prospects of making money and a living there, her words resonating deeper than anything that has been said up until this point. We know Lemoine has a tough decision, long before we know who she is.

Born and raised a rancher, Lemoine ventured out into the world, finding a new career path that diverted from her family’s farm and belief system. Discovering law, Lemoine was determined to become a lawyer. While her family may not be the biggest supporters of her career choice, it is the danger this presents to the ranch. With Lemoine dedicating herself elsewhere, her decisions leave in question who will take over the family ranch.

Good Ol Girl presents Lemoine as Texas’ representation of family and responsibility. She speaks of having to return to the ranch, move in with her family to help her father, to learn the trade – managing both her career and her ranch at the same time. Since she was a child, the idea of her taking over the ranch one day was always a constant understanding. Her father did it when his father passed, and the same is expected of her. Yet, as she learns the art and trade of ranching, she finds herself torn between the life she wants and the one she is expected to follow.

SXSW 2020: GOOD OL GIRL
source: SXSW

Where many will find an emotional pull with Mandy, Lemoine will be the most relatable to audiences, many themselves having experienced the expectations of others versus those we set for ourselves.

Martha

Lemoine and Mandy found the most limelight in Good Ol Girl. Whether that be due to themselves or the filmmakers, I found myself wanting to know more about Martha and her role in the world of ranching. While born and raised in Texas, Martha did not grow up on a ranch. She found her way into agriculture later in life, choosing to major and pursue a career in the field of agriculture.

Martha is the preservation of Texas, striving to rejuvenate the art of ranching. An audience to the swift change commercialism has brought to Texas, she sees what the loss can do to the state and the beauty that needs to be saved. But getting her foot through the door presents a challenge all her own.

With fewer and fewer ranches, there are fewer opportunities to enter the agriculture industry. Further compounding her lack of opportunities, she is a girl looking for a job typically hired out to older cowboys. In her fight to save ranching and maintain her father’s legacy, she finds that her fight for a chance runs even deeper.

Conclusion: Good Ol Girl

Good Ol Girl has a western comfort feel to it, shining a light on an industry that is falling to commercialism – yet one that is just beginning to evolve. I had little knowledge on the subject before the documentary began, and have found a new fascination with the industry and the changes it is experiencing. Good Ol Girl succeeds in bringing attention where attention is due, and providing an understanding of the changes Texas ranchers must embrace if they are to survive. There is no better conclusion that I could provide than the one that Good Ol Girl leaves its viewers on, one that speaks beyond the ranch – one that is universal.

“We have always had cow girls. We are beginning to find out who they are because we didn’t know. And it’s a good story” – Good Ol Girl

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