Documentary Review: ‘Good Ol Girl’

Review by James Lindorf

Director Sarah Brennan Kolb is a proud Texan who knows her way around a ranch. Almost five years ago, she started planning a film that looked at the west’s changing landscape and celebrated the rise of the cowgirl. Good Ol Girl is a feature-length documentary following three young cowgirls as they work their way up in the volatile world of Texas cattle ranching. The world of cattle ranching is changing as suburban sprawl swallows up once profitable ranches, and many young men have been pulled away to jobs in the big city. Cowboys, gunslingers, white hats vs. black hats, even dude ranches, the west has been male-dominated for centuries. Daughters and women are ready to fill that void, whether the world is prepared for it or not.

Kolb wanted to explore all facets of women in ranching. Mandy may have been born on the East Coast, but her dreams and her heart has been in the west since she was a little girl. She wasn’t raised on a ranch, so somethings are still new to here, but she will be damned if anyone will work harder than her. After the death of her parents, she realizes she wants to start a family, even if her long term partner is less than enthusiastic. Will she be able to maintain her relationship and her ranch?

Lemoine is the eldest descendant of a sprawling historic ranch, becoming a partial owner at a young age. However, as much as she loves the ranch, it hasn’t been her dream, and she upset everyone when she left to pay her way through law school. Now she is back home splitting time between the ranch and her small practice. As her father nears retirement, the demands of the ranch will only increase. Can she live her dream while keeping the family legacy afloat, or will she have to give up on one of them?
Martha’s family immigrated from Spain in 1801 and helped establish the city of Laredo. The Santos family once owned an expansive ranch whose remnants world sold off 15 years ago to make way for a more urban landscape. After the death of her father, Marth’s older brother Fred decided to give up ranching, but Martha still clings to her dream. Unfortunately, as a young Latina with no property of her own, she is finding entry into the profession more difficult than expected. Will someone give her a chance, or will she have to be content at being a cowgirl at heart?

When focusing on such and old-world profession, it may be easy to point a camera and tell your subjects to go about their day. However, that is not the approach that Kolb wanted to take. She partnered with cinematographer Kyle I. Kelley to create a unique look for the film. They blended several types of filming, including helicopter shots for sweeping vistas and the use of Go Pros to get the authentic cowgirl experience. Malcolm Parson incorporated lonesome sorrowful violins, classical acoustic guitars, and even a little southern rock to add to the emotion and fun of the film.  

It is clear that Kolb has a passion for both the people and the profession and does her best to highlight their best qualities. She steers clear of the darker side where the racism and misogyny may hold a firmer footing than she is willing to admit. This decision results in Good Ol Girl trending towards being an emotional fluff-piece more than an in-depth exploration of the world of cattle ranching. The film still contains plenty of real emotion as the three women fight for their dreams, and as much as the audience may be rooting for them, things don’t always go their way.

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