Starring: Kelsey Edwards, Brando White, Bryce Fernelius, Sariah Hopkin, Bob Sagers
Director: Matthew Taggart
Mood: If you’re burnt out on overblown blockbuster Westerns and just want to kick back with the fam and watch a homegrown adventure about being yourself and appreciating what you got.
In a shocking turn of events, I got to review a movie that’s not yet released AND interview its director! (Pause for applause.)
The Counterfeit Kid is a heartfelt indie Western-adventure that cleaned up at the Wyoming International Film Festival. And despite my tough-as-nails, gritty-action-loving exterior, I secretly LOVE movies with heart. I’m like Bill Murray in Scrooged. Most of my fondest youthful memories are not actually things I did – they’re scenes from movies I consumed.
I don’t know if it’s a latchkey kid thing, or a Xennial thing, or some other box I can check so it’s not a mental health issue that I have to deal with… but any time I’m down, I turn to the dopamine fixes of my youth like Maverick, Gidget, The Mighty Ducks, The Breakfast Club, 10 Things I Hate About You, Hook, and yes, Scrooged.
The characters are relatable and flawed, and they need to figure their shit out. Most importantly, you always feel safe in the director’s hands, like you can trust that everything will work out in the end. The Counterfeit Kid has that same kind of hopeful essence, which is exactly what director and co-screenwriter Matthew Taggart set out to do.
“I really wanted people to enjoy watching a fun adventure,” he said. “I didn’t have a specific age group in mind, but I did think about the things I loved about movies when I was a kid. So in some way I guess I was writing to the 12-year-old in me who just loved going to the movies.”
I will say upfront, I’m not an avid indie movie connoisseur, so I REALLY had to shift gears for this review and make sure I’m not comparing The Counterfeit Kid to Westerns with hundred-million-dollar budgets. Bottom line: there’s heaps of potential here, and you can feel how much fun it was to make.
The Counterfeit Kid starts out with a Princess Bride-like premise: two attractive young farm kids (Brando White as Jack and Kelsey Edwards as Olivia) are in love, but one of them has a need to prove himself so they can get married. He promises he’ll be back as soon as he can.
But Jack is far from a noble swashbuckler. In fact, he’s kind of a manchild who finds the hat of outlaw Bloody Ben Harris, assumes his identity, and uses Bloody Ben’s reputation to go around intimidating people. He thinks this is the key to making a fortune and impressing his lady-love.
Everyone keeps asking him what he’ll do when the real Bloody Ben finds out. But Jack’s unearned confidence propels him deeper into his tangled web of lazy lies.
Still, he gets a side quest to find a buried treasure in a cave, acquiring the ragtag following of a hilariously sensitive man seeking vengeance (Bryce Fernelius as Chaco), and a degenerate-turned-priest who is just a little off the wagon (Bob Sagers as Jerry).
But hold your horses! Olivia ends up hunting the same treasure with her sister Edna May (Sariah Hopkin). Will the lovers reunite? Will Jack realize he’s enough as-is? And will Bloody Ben come back for his hat? You know the answer is yes, but you’ll have a good time getting there.
When you have limited resources, you have to focus on what you can do really well. And where The Counterfeit Kid EXCELS is cinematography.
I would love to see what the team of director Taggart and director of photography Matthew Griffith could do with a big budget. From the lighting and angles to the wide shots and closeups, everything feels carefully considered and layered. The result is an impressively polished production quality that, combined with the fantastic score, belies the ‘indie’ label.
You can really feel Taggart’s love for Westerns.
“As cheesy as it may sound, I love the fact that [Westerns are] a unique genre to the United States,” he said. “Yes, other countries have made Westerns, but they are a great snapshot of Americana… they just have a great sense of adventure and opportunity to them.
“They can show us both the tragedy and darker side of people’s natures and the human experience, and they can also remind us of the goodness and hope that exists in all of us.”
There are SO MANY actors in The Counterfeit Kid who I could see stepping into a Hollywood comedy Western and holding their own. Here are my tops:
- Bryce Fernelius must be a born performer, like the camera just loves him and he makes you want to hang out with him; as Chaco he gives you flawlessly-timed comedy that feels at once natural and professional-level
- Bob Sagers just looks so perfectly Western in the role of Jerry that I was sure I’ve seen him on the streets of Deadwood; he’s funny, he’s wholly immersed in the character, and I just want to see more of him on my TV
- Ron Hausman has a short but extremely entertaining appearance as Stinky, giving me big-screen character actor vibes – he makes it feel just like a classic Western role, and actually gives me the era perhaps more than anyone else
- Sariah Hopkin is another authentic performer and natural comic – she delivers physicality and strong presence I was not expecting and definitely enjoyed; Edna May was also my fiancé’s favourite character
Clearly I was getting my life from the supporting cast. But the entire movie is bursting with these brilliant moments that feel special.
There’s a scene where Jerry is hurling bottles at Chaco and Jack, and it was giving me hints of the ridiculous cornbread shootout in True Grit. It was so goddamn funny, and so strongly performed by everyone that it will live rent-free in my head for a long time. And the scene where Edna May and Jack get into a ‘fist’ fight gets funnier the more times you watch it.
The Counterfeit Kid is the kind of movie I’d show to my kid to start getting them into Westerns, if I had a kid. Which, lucky for the world, I do not.
I did initially get hung up on some of the more modern elements in the dialogue and overall vibe. To be fair, that’s the exact same thing I point out in Trace Adkins Westerns, and those productions are just being lazy with a bigger budget.
Once I told myself that The Counterfeit Kid never directly claims to be old-timey, I approached it as a timeless friendship adventure set in an alternate universe where people have adapted and got modern makeup and hairstyles but it’s still always the Old West. And let’s be real, that’s the universe I live in.
By the end, these characters felt like my friends, like I was in on the jokes and we were going to ride off after the closing credits to grab a beer at a nearby saloon. Except Jack. Olivia could do better, sorry not sorry.