Don Willmott, 1 star [lowest rating]
Its screenplay was based on Tom Robbins' wonderful comic novel, and it was directed by Gus Van Sant, who was fresh from the twin triumphs of Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho when he got the gig. With those two things going for it, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues should have turned out at least OK. How it ended up as one of the biggest cowpies of the 1990s is something of a mystery, although there's plenty of evidence on screen to shovel through.
Cowgirls tells the very tall tale of Sissy Hankshaw (Uma Thurman), who, having been born with thumbs the size of cucumbers, follows her destiny and becomes -- what else? -- one of the world's greatest hitchhikers. Sissy is also a model for feminine hygiene advertisements. She works closely with cosmetics kingpin The Countess (John Hurt, in drag), who sends her out west to his Rubber Rose Ranch (it's named after one of his best-selling douche bags) to film a commercial for his new Yoni Yum feminine cleanser. No, you're not having a bad dream. Keep reading.
The ranch is populated by a ragtag crew of lesbian cowgirls, led by the ruff-n-tuff Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Phoenix), a fountain of feminist platitudes who can also crack a pretty mean whip. Naturally she develops a crush on Sissy and ponders the erotic possibilities of Sissy's enormous thumbs.
As it turns out, the Rubber Rose Ranch is also a nesting area for an endangered type of whooping crane, so the arrival of developers and the police after the cowgirls take over the ranch adds a dramatic subplot designed to add a layer of '70s environmentalism to the many layers of '70s feminism that weigh down the film and prevent any humor from taking flight.
At one point, Thurman dresses in a whooping crane costume and flaps through a field for a Yoni Yum commercial, a scene you can be certain she'd rather forget. In another memorable moment, the cowgirls lift their skirts to assault intruders with the unpleasant scent of their not-so-fresh nether regions. The horror.
The roll call of weirdo cameos in Cowgirls serves mainly as a window into Van Sant's strange mind. What Ken Kesey, Buck Henry, Sean Young, Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Rosanne, Udo Kier, Carol Kane, and Angie Dickinson are doing in this film is anybody's guess. One thing they're not doing is generating any laughs. Even Lorraine Bracco and Pat "wax on, wax off" Morita are wasted in supporting roles.
Don't waste your time on Cowgirls. There must be better douche bag movies out there.
James Brundage, 4 stars
Good serious movies, by their nature, have to have some element of comedy in them. Whether it be satire, irony, or downright slapstick humor, they distract us from the serious nature of the story until we don't know what has happenned and end up missing the moive and characters when they end. Of course, you ask, how could a movie with a title like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues be funny at all, let alone serious at the same time? The answer: a beautiful adaptation by Gus Van Sant (who also directs) and a fine performance by Uma Thurman.
In the movie, based on the novel by Tom Robbins, Uma Thurman plays Sissy Hankshaw, the world's best hitchhiker because she has the world's largest thumbs (expressed perfectly in the line, "The Lord God made me to direct traffic."). She has no job most of the time but, when she works, is the model for the Dew Mist feminine hygenie spray. On one modeling assignment her travels takes her to a beauty ranch whose cowgirls are lesbians (without a political agenda! A non-stereotyped Hollywood, at last!). Upon coming to the ranch she finds love with the ringleader Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Pheonix).
Trapped in the same world all of us are, trying to find love, fit in, and get along, she believes that her happiness has been found with these cowgirls, but sadness is just as likely to hit there as anywhere else, and, as the title goes, Even Cowgirls get the Blues.
As just about everything Gus Van Sant does is, the film is excellent as a metaphor movie. In addition, it keeps an interesting intelligence to the cowgirls, all of whom are endowned with a wisdom that surpasses most people's. Like Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Gus Van Sant's other fairly surreal forray, it's inaccessible to the average viewer because of its trippy nature and political riskiness (Drugstore Cowboy was a film about a crew of dope fiends, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is a film about lesbians that can offend it's target group.) If you can actually get past the oddities, though, it's one of the funniest films you'll ever see, but one that will leave you wishing that cowgirls didn't have to get the blues.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th May 1994
Distributed by: Fine Line Features
Production compaines: Fine Line Features
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 14
IMDB: 4.2 / 10
Director: Gus Van Sant
Producer: Laurie Parker
Screenwriter: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Uma Thurman as Sissy Hankshaw, Lorraine Bracco as Delores Del Ruby, Pat Morita as The Chink, Angie Dickinson as Miss Adrian, Keanu Reeves as Julian Gitche, John Hurt as The Countess, Rain Phoenix as Bonanza Jellybean, Ed Begley Jr. as Rupert, Carol Kane as Carla, Sean Young as Marie Barth, Crispin Glover as Howard Barth, Buck Henry as Dr. Dreyfus, Grace Zabriskie as Mrs. Hankshaw, Heather Graham as Cowgirl Heather, Udo Kier as Commercial Director, Edward James Olmos as Musician at Barbecue, River Phoenix as Pilgrim, Roseanne Barr as Madame Zoe