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Starrring: River Gallo, Dylan O'Brien, Victoria Pedretti, Murray Batletti, Indya Moore

Director(s): Esteban Arango


Ponyboi bursts off the screen in this bombastic, edgy, and campy roller-coaster ride of a film. Flipping the script on the LGBTQIA+ return home tale and the classic Jersey mobster saga, this neon-soaked story is not only full of action but also pure moments of tenderness. Complicated and hilarious, Ponyboi’s journey exposes a kaleidoscope of ways humanity is sugary sweet under hard surfaces. Backdrops of laundromats, diners, and the Jersey Shore create a heightened sense of place and time that is at once precisely transportative and fantastically imaginary.

Director Esteban Arango returns to the Sundance Film Festival after his feature film debut in 2020 with Blast Beat. His signature liveliness, energy, and Latinx lens are present and blossoming in this sophomore effort. Writer, producer, and lead actor River Gallo delivers a thrilling performance and a ripe emotional foundation that absolutely sings. Arango and Gallo’s creative collaboration is as entertaining as it is emotionally graceful.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating: 3 out of 5

Ponyboi plays with plot elements and tropes that we have seen numerous times in the crime genre, but with a fresh perspective for the story to be told from and two captivating performances from River Gallo and Dylan O’Brien, the film becomes a solid little crime thriller that is worth your time.

Ponyboi originally started off as a short film which was written and directed by this film’s star River Gallo, and Gallo has written the feature film screenplay that expands upon their original vision. Instantly, the intersex perspective of the story adds a layer to your typical Jersey based mob story of colourful characters, grungy locations and danger that when combined with the LGBTQ2+ coming home narrative, makes for an enticing story. There are insightful themes of acceptance, family and love that are explored in tender moments throughout the film, mixed in with your traditional but entertaining action sequences of the gangster genre, creating a unique experience to be had with Ponyboi even if the film does drag ever so slightly in its middle act. Coupled with the dimly lit sets that capture this darker side of New Jersey, the cast has a solid base to work with that lets the performances be the standout element of the film.

Even if the story of Ponyboi feels familiar in terms of the plot points, the performances easily make up for that sense that you have already seen a story like this one play out before. In the lead role of Ponyboi is Gallo, and they are excellent. Gallo brings a raw vulnerability to Ponyboi that allows the audience to become emotionally engaged in the story as Ponyboi grapples with their strained relationship with their father, the legal predicament they find themselves in after, and the wrath of their boss. It’s a powerful and all encompassing performance that carries the film from start to finish, proving that Gallo is a force to be reckoned with. The supporting cast of Victoria Pedretti, Murray Bartlett, and Indya Moore are all very good in their limited amount of screen time, each making the most of their screentime to create memorable supporting characters. But the scene stealing performance of the entire film comes from Dylan O’Brien as Vinnie, Ponyboi’s boss. After spending years as the charming and heroic leading man, O’Brien is in a completely different role as the sinister mobster that is working Ponyboi and the other sex workers, and O’Brien truly shines every second he is on screen. With a vile wickedness, O’Brien chews up every scene with a truly unhinged and chilling performance that is easily one of the best performances of his career to date. Needless to say, we need to see more of O’Brien being a villain going forward as he has a terrifying side to him.

From the beginning of the film, there is something enticing about Ponyboi that draws you immediately into the film. With a compelling story that lends itself to good drama and character moments from a strong cast led by two excellent turns from River Gallo and Dylan O’Brien, Ponyboi easily rises above the crime drama tropes to create an exciting an emotionally resonant gangster flick.

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