Even Cowgirls Go to Jail: Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

Ride 'em, inmate: A scene from Sweethearts at the Prison Rodeo
Shane Brown
Ride 'em, inmate: A scene from Sweethearts at the Prison Rodeo

A feel-good sports movie you can wrap your thighs around without blushing, Bradley Beesley's film opens the door into two arenas doc-watchers rarely frequent: state penitentiaries and rodeos, which have been merged in Oklahoma at a massive round-up performed entirely by cons. An annual tradition for seven decades, the bull-and-bronc festival had just begun allowing inmates from a women's prison to participate when the film was being shot, so Beesley hones in on the gals as they train, prep, and try to stay out of trouble in the weeks leading up to their showdown in front of thousands. It's a thick ethnographic slice, for sure, if a little PBS in its rhythms, with a narrative net spread thin and wide by suspenseful parole-hearing melodramas, ubiquitous maternal angst, and a wrenching family-reunion clinch to beat all comers. The issue of over-incarceration (particularly in Oklahoma) infests the overall high, while we grow a little suspicious of Beesley's favoring of pretty white/Latina cons over black, fat, or ugly. All told, though, there's enough rosy-cheeked drama, triumph, and sacrifice for a ready-made Hollywood remake—it might be the cred project Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz are looking for.

 
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