Bold Queer Love Marches Right into the Rodeo in ‘National Anthem’ Film Debut.


The sails of masculinity tend to be tugged sharply by the symbolic winds of horses, cowboys, and the open wild, as so vividly depicted in iconic cues from the likes of Barbie and Cormac McCarthy. Hollywood, ever the astute observer, has long used these symbols to craft narratives that challenge societal norms and expectations. Queer cowboy tales are a testament to this trend, their allure amplified by their intricate tapestry of forbidden love and suspenseful subversion.

The cinematic landscape unfolds another such interesting gem, Luke Gilford’s, “National Anthem.” The film bears marks of tradition but isn’t entirely restrained by them, daring to explore uncharted territories. Centerstage is young Dylan, a character brought to life by the truly exceptional Charlie Plummer. The narrative navigates the tumultuous life of this 21-year-old whose struggles amplify under the harsh voices of his surroundings.

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Dylan, a construction worker in the American Southwest, is stifled by his modest existence. Besides being a father figure to his young sibling, he is shackled by an atmosphere that neither acknowledges nor commends his sexuality. Shrouded in silence, he toils away as his mother and co-workers jab him with derogatory remarks and misguided jests about his homosexuality.

“National Anthem” unravels an arduously star-crossed love story. Yet, at its core, it’s a coming-of-age tale that probes the nuanced territories of identity, belonging, and societal molding. Here, Gilford masterfully weaves a canvas that begs the question: Just how much agency do we have in seeking our place in the world?

Troubled times pressure Dylan into seeking additional work to alleviate the financial crunch bearing down upon his family. This pursuit leads him to the threshold of a ranch that shatters his traditional worldview. He stumbles into a haven for the queer rodeo fraternity— a sanctuary untouched by the weight of exterior judgment.

Conversations do not pander to the specifics of gender identity or sexuality in this harmonious setting, where the fluid rejection of norms prevails. It’s a world where Dylan, for the first time, contemplates the possibilities of his own gender and identity, free from societal constraints.

Dylan, enticed by the strong sense of identity and camaraderie within the anonymous group, kindles a romantic connection with the enigmatic and free-spirited Sky, portrayed by Eve Lindley. Unraveling like a mystery, their relationship meanders through the complexities of Sky’s preexisting relationship with the group’s charismatic leader, Pepe.

The cinematographic expertise of Katelin Arizmendi implants a surreal tinge to Gilford’s narrative. The landscape emerges as a distinct character in the story, instilling awe and offering a rich backdrop to Dylan’s entrancing romance. The rodeo sequences peppered with quintessential American scenes form a mesh of striking imagery, framing a tableau of queer love, pride flags, and middling makeup sessions of drag queens.

The newfound acceptance and liberation encourage Dylan to question his loyalties – is his rightful place within the community, or alongside his younger brother and his struggling, alcoholic mother? The family dynamics remain frustratingly obscure, often serving basis to highlight Dylan’s hardships, but falling short of offering a satisfying resolution.

Gilford directs with an intimate touch, rooted in a deep personal connection with the cowboy lifestyle, inherited from his rodeo-rider father. He channels this connection into a dialogue with his audience, underscoring the struggle of the LGBTQ+ community to lay claim to patriotism in traditionally hostile spaces.

Gilford’s debut directorial venture breaks new ground in storytelling, shedding light on a subculture that remains elusive to many. “National Anthem,” the LD Entertainment release, will grace theaters this Friday, running for 99 minutes, exploring explicit themes of sexuality, graphic nudity, language and drug use.