Luther “Sick Boy” Maryboy isn’t a bad guy, but he gets in a lot of trouble when he drinks. When he drinks, he can’t control his anger. In Drunktown’s Finest, Sydney Freeland’s new film about Navajo young people seeking a way out of an impoverished New Mexico town that borders the Navajo reservation, Sick Boy has a single weekend to sober up before entering basic training in the Army. Felixia aspires to be a model and competes with other girls for a spot in a swimsuit calendar shoot. But Felixia has a secret. She’s transgendered, and she fears that the truth will disqualify her. A third character, Nizhoni Smiles, is the adopted daughter of a white family, home from school for the summer and engaging in community service to fulfill a scholarship requirement. The only community-service option open to her is picking up roadkill with a crew of older men. Over the course of the film, these characters’ lives connect in unexpected, emotionally rich ways.
Inspired by an episode of 20/20 in which Gallup, New Mexico, the director’s hometown, was referred to as “Drunktown, U.S.A,” Freeland sought to bring nobility to her characters, and she succeeds. Sick Boy, Felixia, and Nizhoni are looking to escape a world of rampant alcoholism, prejudice, and violence, but they find the love and respect they seek in their own backyards. Sick Boy, played by Jeremiah Bitsui (Breaking Bad), is increasingly drawn into his buddies’ plan for a robbery, not for the thrill of the act itself but because his scuffles with the law threaten his Army career plans and robbery offers an easy-money alternative. Sick Boy has a pregnant girlfriend at home and a sister preparing for a puberty rite that will mark her transition into womanhood. Felixia, played by transgendered actress Carmen Moore, feels the pain of being rejected by other young people in her town. She’s drawn to promiscuity, flirting with older men online and prostituting herself. She meets Sick Boy, who is attracted to her but does not know that she’s transgendered. Freeland cast Moore in the role after seeing her in a YouTube video. Despite a handful of scenes with stilted dialogue, Moore’s naturalism is a standout. One senses the desperation driving the character’s actions.
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