TIFF movie review: 'National Anthem' a loving portrait of LGBTQ, polyamorous community

Eve Lindley stars in "National Anthem." Photo courtesy of LD Entertainment
1 of 5 | Eve Lindley stars in "National Anthem." Photo courtesy of LD Entertainment

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- National Anthem, which screened Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a small-town drama full of warmth and acceptance. It highlights specific lifestyles, but showcases the value in sharing the love with all.

Dylan (Charlie Plummer) works in construction in New Mexico and takes care of his younger brother, while their mother (Robyn Lively) stays out late partying. When Dylan accepts a job with Pepe (Rene Rosado), he discovers a new world.


Pepe is part of the House of Splendor, a rodeo community populated by LGBTQ cowboys, cowgirls and cowpeople. Dylan falls for Pepe's girlfriend, Sky (Eve Lindley), and since Pepe and Sky have an open relationship, they can pursue those feelings.

Dylan is quiet when he first arrives at House of Splendor because that's how he's gotten through life. People like Sky and Carrie (Mason Alexander Park) introduce Dylan to drag and roping techniques.

It's lovely to see how open and non-judgemental Dylan is. So many movies could deal with homophobia or advocacy, rightfully since there are still social issues that need addressing, but National Anthem is truly just about making friends.


That is its own form of advocacy, because National Anthem isn't about Dylan coming out or fighting for a cause. He does find drag performance is a hobby he enjoys, but he's mainly just a boy who likes a trans girl and learns about the community in which she lives.

The House of Splendor community is even more specific than the breadth of LGBTQ characters represented within. They're gay, trans, nonbinary and polyamorous people who also happen to love horses and rodeo stunts.

So portraying that very specific community is illuminating, and they are lots of fun to spend 90-some minutes with them. In welcoming Dylan, they show they're willing to teach newcomers and let him find the parts he likes or identifies with.

The profound theme of National Anthem is that discussing the LGBTQ community need not be a binary between gay and straight, or even tolerant and homophobic. It can just be about meeting people and accepting them as they are.

National Anthem had its premiere at the South by Southwest film Festival in March. Look for more distribution news after Toronto.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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