Film

Personal Struggles in a New Mexico Town Sensitively Depicted in Drunktown’s Finest

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In northwestern New Mexico, the city of Gallup has been nicknamed the “Heart of Indian Country” for its large, culturally significant Native American population, though it was also controversially dubbed “Drunk Town, U.S.A.” by 20/20 in a late-Eighties segment.

Writer, director, and Gallup native Sydney Freeland’s conventional yet credible portrait of identity crises on the reservation covers familiar ground (alcoholism, poverty) while warmly exploring contemporary issues rarely filmed within the diverse community.

Three coming-of-age stories gently intersect, far less calculatingly than in Crash or Babel: There’s impulsive young father-to-be Sick Boy (Breaking Bad’s Jeremiah Bitsui), an Army hopeful caught in a violent, self-sabotaging cycle under the influence, and serious-minded college hopeful Nizhoni (MorningStar Angeline), a Christian adoptee to an Anglo family longing for truth and closure regarding her birth parents. Pre-op trans woman Felixia (a naturalistically cast Carmen Moore, an actual trans Navajo) masks her pain with self-assuredness, turning tricks for easy money and remaining deeply focused on auditioning for the annual “Women of the Navajo” swimsuit calendar.

Executive-produced by Robert Redford, the film has a Sundance Institute–workshopped clunkiness that too often dulls the color of its idiosyncrasies. Yet however slight its storytelling, these tense and resilient struggles against dead-end futures are sensitively depicted.