There are some areas of the United States that get depicted in movies a disproportionate number of times. Big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago hold sway not just because they’re so interesting, but because a large chunk of the population resides there. But as a small movie like Montana Story demonstrates, metropolitan areas don’t hold a monopoly on gripping stories.
The film centers on Cal (Owen Teague) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson), a brother and sister who have come home to the Montana ranch where they grew up after their dad has fallen into a coma. While Cal has stayed relatively close in Wyoming, Erin moved far away to New York, only staying in touch with her dad’s housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero).
With their dad seeming to have only a short time left, the siblings have to figure out not only how to deal with his estate, but with their own complicated feelings about him. It’s clear that both are still dealing with the effects of a trauma that their dad inflicted upon them years earlier, and being around him — even in comatose form — drags those raw emotions to the surface again.
Co-directed and co-written by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the film is light on plot. There are some allusions to Cal and Erin's father, who was a lawyer, helping to cover up bad environmental practices by mining companies, but there’s no larger overarching story that overshadows the family itself. Erin’s pain causes her to make grand plans to bring a 25-year-old horse named Mr. T back to New York with her, but the side plot is merely a conduit toward understanding the depth of her feelings.
Befitting a state with the nickname “Big Sky Country,” the film showcases the vistas that few other areas of the world can boast. While the rural landscape could be described as desolate, it also offers a sense of quiet and calm that is at odds with the roiling emotions of the lead characters. Anytime the characters venture outside of the house, especially on one particularly long drive, a sense of balance comes to the film.
Richardson and Teague display a bond that makes them instantly believable as brother and sister, and that immediate connection pays dividends as more is revealed about what happened to their characters earlier in their lives. They’re aided by supporting actors Gilbert Owuor, Guerrero, and Eugene Brave Rock, each of whom has a presence that automatically draws in the viewer.
Montana Story is not a message film that’s out to make its audience contemplate some deep issue. It’s a simple but moving story about a family thrown back together under trying circumstances, and how they are able to move forward from this point in time.
Montana Story is now playing in select theaters.