Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt has a talent for portraying the American working class experience through quiet, contemplative frontier dramas — letting humanity shine through the grim wilderness. Her latest film, First Cow, does that as well, but under the cover of a rather quirky premise: a cook and a refugee strike up a close friendship and an unusual business deal by stealing milk from a cow. It sounds like the set-up for a joke, but it is in fact the foundation for one of the most lovely and tender portrayals of male friendship in some time. Watch the First Cow trailer below.
First Cow Trailer
John Magaro stars as Cookie Figowitz, a soft-spoken cook for a group of fur trappers who strikes up an unlikely friendship with the Chinese refugee Henry Brown (Orion Lee). Cookie’s pipe dream is to open his own bakery, an unlikely goal in the wilderness of the frontier, but the shrewd Henry sees an opportunity with the arrival of the first cow of the Oregon Territory, under the ownership of a wealthy trading post resident (Toby Jones). Thus begins a rather oddball plot: Cookie and Henry steal milk from the cow to bake cakes, which become a sensation at the grim settlement they live in.
I got the chance to see First Cow at the New York Film Festival, and it was one of the loveliest unlikely buddy comedies I’d seen. “First Cow is a laughably low stakes drama that plays on the intense expectations set for these kind of pioneer films, instead focusing on the lovely relationship between Cookie and King as they dream of making enough money to strike out west and settle down together,” I wrote in my NYFF recap. While it’s a decidedly slim and low-stakes drama, First Cow is a gift of a movie that teaches that maybe the first cow really was the friends we made along the way.
Here is the synopsis for First Cow:
When Cookie Figowitz, the cook for a party of volatile fur trappers trekking through the Oregon Territory in the 1820s, joins up with the refugee Henry Brown, the two begin a wild ride that takes them from the virgin territory of the West all the way to China and back again.
First Cow opens in theaters on March 6, 2020.