It is always hard not to admire someone for their enthusiasm despite their shortcomings.
Director Chloé Zhao’s The Rider is a well reviewed artistic film that reminded me of the story that my wife tells me about an experience in grade school. Anyone who knows Mo recognizes that her many talents do not include singing.
Yet her enthusiasm does not stop her from blasting forth when motivated, and it apparently began late in grade school. While in a music class, here is what the teacher, Ms. Emmy, wrote on her report card after listening to her vocal ability, “Tries hard.”
Ms. Zhao does the same thing with The Rider. Just as she displayed in her previous film Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), Rider is filled with an emotional force wrapped around some great cinematography. Taking place in the American West, it tells the story of Brady Blackburn, a rodeo rider unable to continue in his profession as a result of a serious head injury. Riding horses was his entire life from childhood, and he is left struggling in a void that increasingly has little meaning.
The film has some special performances beginning with Brady Jandreau who plays the injured rider. This is Mr. Jandreau’s first movie performance and his emotional suffering becomes yours.
The irony of this film is that several of the actors are family members in real life. For example, Tim Jandreau plays Brady’s father Wayne and Tanner Jandreau plays a character with that same name. Ms. Zhao made the same daring contribution to the previously discussed Songs My Brothers Taught Me, and few directors would dare to film a movie using actors with no experience.
However, the problem with the movie is its focus on the emotional moroseness that is consuming a family. That emotional suffering included the death of a beloved horse that reminded me of a central moment in the recent independent film Lean on Pete.
So, if you want to see a movie where you are willing to shed thoughts of entertainment while embracing an innovative, creative director who “tries hard”, then hunt down this film and see if you join the many reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes who embraced it.