What do you get when you mix past traumas, parental death, cowboys, bar fights and the game of mahjong? A meandering drama about two childhood best friends reconnecting and struggling to confront and/or move on from childhood abuse at the hands of the same man – plus lots of bull riding. (And drinking – I had major college flashbacks watching this, despite the fact these characters seemed to all be late 20s/early 30s).
MAHJONG AND THE WEST’s synopsis goes like this: “A city girl returns to Wyoming to bury her mother after 15 years away. Seeing her childhood best friend reminds her why she left. A gritty portrait of two young woman running from a violent, troubled past– finding comfort in booze, sex, and bull riding.”, but I’d have to disagree with the “gritty portrait” part of that description. Despite the hardcore drinking of the film and Kate’s clear self-destruction, the portrayal of uncontrollable anger at the past and the desperate need to keep the illusion that one is in control was far tamer than I think perhaps the director was going for. This had much more to do with the script than the actors though, as the script felt…oddly rushed despite the fact that very little happened. It was almost a journey to jump to the next drinking scene, with small quiet moments in between (my favorite small quiet moments being when the local grandmothers came together to play mahjong and gossip), making things slightly disjointed. The childhood abuse aspect of the story could have been made a bit clearer a bit sooner – it would’ve helped with the understanding of what exactly was going on. And gotta say, I wasn’t a fan of the ending (although this is probably more a personal preference thing). But like, is Kate going to totally self-destruct now after she finally seemed to have taken the first step to the road back? Is Maddy staying now and taking the ranch back from the adorable couple who clearly know nothing about ranching? Why was there so much bull-riding?? Is it really only men that do that?
Minus the issues with the script, the film is enjoyable (if a tad bit boring) in a quiet sort of way. There’s some beautiful scenery and landscapes to be had here, and if you DO like bull-riding, then you’re in luck. Alyssa Carpenter is magnificent as Kate – the wild child, self-destructing even in minutae – she will make you feel. And Jannette Bloom as Maddy does a fine job (though she has less to work with); her quieter performance is a nice counterpoint to Alyssa’s.
Overall, this wasn’t my favorite film – if I did a star system, I’d probably give it 3 stars – but most of it had to do with the script. “Coming home” dramas tend to be either really good or really bad, so being one that’s somewhere in the higher end of the middle ground isn’t a bad thing. I think if you like quiet dramas, cowboys and bulls, then you’ll probably enjoy MAHJONG IN THE WEST, so go check it out on Facebook and see if this film is your sort of thing!