Every year, the Sundance Film Festival premieres a diverse array of movies from independent spaces in the hopes of them crossing over as mainstream hits. Past Sundance movies include (500) Days of Summer, Memento, Whiplash and Reservoir Dogs. Among the new films that premiered at the Utah festival this week is Ponyboi, which not only boasts an impressive dramatic performance from Dylan O’Brien, but makes for a historic moment of representation in LGBTQ+ cinema.
On behalf of CinemaBlend, I was among select press that had the chance to see Ponyboi first. Here’s what you need to know and can expect from the movie that I hope we see make its way on the 2024 movie schedule following its Sundance premiere.
Dylan O’Brien Delivers Incredible Performance In Drug Thriller That Reminds Me Of Uncut Gems
In a lot of ways, Ponyboi gives the energy of the Safdies’ Uncut Gems or even Good Time, because it’s an intense crime thriller that doesn’t let up once it gets going and involves honest character studies regarding its core players. At the center of Ponyboi is its titular character, played by newcomer River Gallo, who plays a queer sex worker living in New Jersey that works with Dylan O’Brien’s Vinny, who is her very shady pimp and a drug dealer. Vinny is a far cry from the actor's Teen Wolf days or really any of O'Brien's other best movie and TV roles thus far.
He convincingly embodies the tattooed-up smug villain of Ponyboi, with the character cheating his way through the movie as he is simultaneously getting ready to become a father for the first time with the pregnant character played by Victoria Pedretti of You and The Haunting of Hill House fame. He delivers an incredible performance, but it’s secondary to River Gallo’s even more memorable leading role.
About River Gallo And The Important Moving Queer Message At The Center Of Ponyboi
While the name River Gallo may be new to many (including to myself at first), the actor, model and writer of Ponyboi has been trying to bring to life this film for the past decade. Gallo is an openly intersex actor who injects their experiences as an intersex person in the narrative of Ponyboi with the dreaminess, grit and emotional arc of Ponyboi. As Ponyboi gets caught in the crosshairs of this Uncut Gems-like thriller, Gallo is also making history as being the first openly intersex lead to tell a story about their complicated experience of trying to fit into a greatly binary world.
Interwoven with all the stress of the movie directed by Esteban Arango is a moving story that includes flashbacks to Ponyboi’s childhood and a welcome supporting role played by White Lotus’ Murray Bartlett (who notably gave us that unforgettable queer storyline in The Last Of Us alongside Nick Offerman). As Ponyboi goes on a dark adventure through New Jersey’s underground drug scene, Gallo gets to tell a really beautiful story of acceptance that will not only affect LGBTQ+ people who may directly relate, but all who may struggle with defining themselves in our complex world filled with grey areas to ponder.
Ponyboi is one of quite a few queer films on display this year at the Sundance Film Festival we hope to be talking about throughout the year. Additionally, Kristen Stewart’s LGBTQ+ romance Love Lies Bleeding premiered this week to a lot of thoughts from its first viewers. Keep following CinemaBlend for more reactions from the 2024 film festival.