First Cow

First Cow ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

First Cow condenses the story of settler colonial capitalism's enclosure of the ecological and the commons as clearly and cleanly as any fictional narrative I've encountered, and its opening arc (the meetcute between Cookie and King-Lu) is overwhelmingly, almost psychedelically, beautiful. 

So what's keeping me from declaring this the flatout masterpiece that others see? Oddly, given what I like about Kelly Reichardt's other work, it could have something to do with the specificity of the duo's grift. This is a movie about stealing milk and baking biscuits. It could almost follow the arc of an It's Always Sunny episode, or Office Space, but it's not quite a con... though it is sort of a grift (King-Lu is constantly spelling out the unique economic advantages their firm has, which are soon to evaporate). It's also a labor of love. I've seen others describe Cookie's baking as art. Its unalienated labor, to be sure. 

For a craft so specific, with so many potential resonances, it's surprising that Reichardt doesn't attend to the kinds of details others found so monotonous in Meek's Cutoff. We don't get closeups of each step of the baking process! I'm aware that this is a strange complaint but for the first time in my experience watching a Reichardt movie, it felt like there were very few scenes that existed for the mere purpose of luxuriating in the experiential. Sure, there's plenty of 'pure' visual storytelling, but there's also plenty of screentime that exists simply to move the plot along. There's an attention to the tender friendship between Cookie and King-Lu, and Cookie and the cow, but in order for all the other points that the movie wants to make to hit right, it feels like that attention should be sustained elsewhere. By asking for these things, it's possible that I'm misreading the movie as an elegy. It's got other things on its mind, too. It's also got an out of focus close-up on Stephen Malkmus playing with a bird that works beautifully within the world created here.

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