“You Won’t Be Alone” cries out for a queer reading, with the innate fluidity of gender and expression its character experiences. And it requires more patience and rumination than you might be ready for. But a few films entered me at Sundance this year quite like this one.
Oklahoma-born Mickey Reece is no stranger to the surreal and deconstructive: Take 2017’s “Alien,” which reimagined Elvis Presley in a much different way than Baz Luhrmann did. Or last year’s “Agnes,” which starts as an exorcism picture before bravely veering off into a more contemporary, contemplative direction at the halfway mark. “Country Gold” takes those instincts as far as they’ve ever gone before, with Reece imagining a fictionalized meeting of the minds between two titans at the height of their respective country music careers: George Jones (Reece regular Ben Hall) and Troyal Brux (Reece himself), a gossamer-thin analogue for Garth Brooks at the height of his mid-’90s fame.
Jones has invited Troyal to Oklahoma for an intimate chat, something the latter takes as validation for his more focus-grouped, crowd-pleasing school of pop country. It’s not long after arriving, however, that he learns the true reason for Jones’ invitation: after their night together, Jones plans to cryogenically freeze himself so he can outlive his enemies and detractors. Before he goes, he wants to see what world he’s leaving behind for country music.
The ensuing odyssey is hard to describe and yet impossible to look away from, flipping between form and genre with Reece’s signature agility. Black-and-white indie-film hangout scenes turn into ink-sketch animations and groovy ’70s crime homages as Jones tells tall tales of his life and Troyal struggles to keep up with him. But all these episodic jaunts float above a surprisingly melancholic story of two men at different ends of the mirror, wondering what about themselves is reflected in the other. What will they embrace? What will they reject? It’s offbeat and unpredictable in the exact way I love, and its end credits scene rivals “Pearl”’s for its jaw-dropping commitment to the bit.
“We Met in Virtual Reality”
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, the connections we forge online can often be just as real to us (if not more so) than the ones we make in meatspace. Joe Hunting’s warm, inviting “We Met in Virtual Reality” is an ode to that principle, zeroing in on several folks who frequent the virtual-reality social networking space VRChat. There’s no point-and-laugh condescension to be found; sure, there’s plenty of space for mirth, but the netizens of VRChat would chuckle right along with you when their VR car overturns on a virtual freeway, or when Hunting pans over from a serious conversation about accessibility to reveal the other participant is Kermit the Frog .