National Anthem is an exquisite, organic drama celebrating the queer rodeo collective: SXSW Film Festival Review

  • Peter Gray
  • March 12, 2023
  • Comments Off on National Anthem is an exquisite, organic drama celebrating the queer rodeo collective: SXSW Film Festival Review

There’s a moment in the first half of Luke Gilford‘s exquisite looking drama National Anthem where 21-year-old construction worker Dylan (Charlie Plummer) seems perplexed that an outside group of queer rodeo performers and ranchers would find him interesting; “You haven’t met your people yet”, is the open, telling response from the captivating Sky (Eve Lindley), encapsulating the inclusive beauty of Gilford’s film in a single line of dialogue.

Before Dylan and Sky cross paths, he is living a particularly monotonous existence in New Mexico, taking temporary construction gigs where he can, before returning to the one-bedroom home he shares with his younger brother (Joey DeLeon) and their alcoholic mother (Robyn Lively).  She so often leaves the two to fend themselves of an evening, usually returning with a latest-in-line fling that forces the two brothers to share the couch.

Given Dylan is essentially the primary caretaker in the household, he’s practically reserved himself to this life, but opportunity knocks through Pepe (Rene Rosado), who pulls up to the latest site with an offer of extra work.  There’s an immediate connection between Dylan and Pepe, but it’s one that will ultimately be tested when Dylan takes a liking to Sky, Pepe’s partner at the homestead built by a community of queer performers; “House of Splendor”, as it is so dubbed.

Dylan’s world feels immediately expanded once meeting Sky and the various other personalities so lovingly crafted by National Anthem‘s predominantly queer and non-binary cast.  Whilst Dylan doesn’t exactly conform to the stereotypes of principal masculinity, it’s evident he’s never had his identity interrogated, so there’s a sexual introspection explored throughout the film, and in the hands of Gilford – who looked to his own experiences in uncovering queer rodeos and the challenges that provided in defining identity – it’s stunningly crafted.

Through both Dylan’s blossoming relationship with Sky, which in itself becomes an extension of her partnership with Pepe, and the protective role he takes on in fostering his brother, who effortlessly takes to Dylan’s new surroundings with a wide-eyed acceptance, National Anthem navigates any potential melodramatic sticking points with an assured naturality.  It’s a beautiful film, one that Gilford has the intelligence to not undermine with a tragic temperament or any sort of defining clarity moment for the unlatched Dylan and his easy acceptance as to where and who he belongs.

Celebrating a queer collective that have seldom seen a light shone on them, National Anthem does so with an organic sheen.


National Anthem is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival coverage, running between March 10th and 18th, 2023, in Austin, Texas.  For more information head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.