Cotton County Boys (Short Film) (2011)

18 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

One of the films I looked forward to seeing at the 5th Annual Little Rock Film Festival in early June 2011 was “Cotton County Boys,” Collin Buchanan’s senior thesis film for the UCA (University of Central Arkansas) Filmmaking Program. What drew my attention to it was its clever, 70s-retro-style 3-minute trailer and its cast, which included Levi Agee (film columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette), Lynnsee Provence (actor in “Shotgun Stories”), and Natalie Canerday (the mother from “Sling Blade”).

So on June 5th, 2011 in Little Rock, I saw “Cotton County Boys” (which is 30 minutes long) when it was screened with five other short comedies made in Arkansas. I was hoping to like it…and fortunately I did. This is an enjoyable short comedy with a lot of laughs and many moments when I had a smile on my face. It also has a heart—the film fit right into its LRFF category title, which was “Hijinks and Heart.”

The titular Cotton County Boys are three dim-witted but well-meaning Southern brothers who still live with their mother and spend most of their time messing around and shooting each other with 4th-of-July rockets. That’s actually how the movie opens—one of the brothers smells the morning air in a brief tender moment right before the others playfully shoot fireworks at him.

The conflict of the story is that the Cotton family needs to come up with $12,000 to save the family house from foreclosure (it was originally $11,000 until one of the brothers broke the process server’s car’s back window). So the brothers—Bobby (Terrell Case), Bo (Levi Agee, who also co-produced this film and is credited here as “Reuben Agee”), and Sammy (Lynnsee Provence) Cotton—decide to go job-hunting. Bobby finds a job at a fast-food restaurant, where he develops a crush on the attractive co-worker Hattie (Kelsie Louise Craig), and Bo and Sammy find a job painting birdhouses. (This is shown in a montage, which features cameos by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette film critic Philip Martin and Candyce Hinkle, who played the landlady in “True Grit.”) Soon enough, though, they get the idea to win the money by making their own funny home videos and sending them into their mother’s favorite TV show, which can be seen as a clone of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

This results in multiple shots to the crotch and other injuries. Now, as tired as I am of the comedic “shots to the crotch” cliché, it works here because a) they’re still funny here and b) they help serve the story. The sequences in which the boys film their own stunts using the family video camera are amusing, fun to watch, and actually about something. This could have been a formulaic romp about cardboard characters who simply run around nearly getting themselves killed. But no—director Collin Buchanan is very careful in making us empathize with the characters. They’re not completely idiotic—in fact, Bobby, Bo, and Sammy are smart in their own way. And everything they do is for the family. This is where part of the film’s heart comes into place. There are also some brief awkwardly-funny but somewhat-sweet moments between Bobby and Hattie, although their relationship could have gotten a little further before the emotional payoff at the end. Actually, this is what cost the film half-a-star. Maybe if the film were a little longer so it could have a few more moments with Bobby and Hattie, this would have gotten four stars instead of three-and-a-half.

But the true heart of “Cotton County Boys” lies within the relationship of the Cotton family. Terrell Case, Levi Agee, and Lynnsee Provence give good performances as these likable characters and have a nice rapport with each other, as well as with Natalie Canerday, who plays their mother. They add to the humor and heart of this endearing short film. But wait! What review of a movie with ridiculous stunts could resist the joke, “Don’t try this at home?”

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