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Ponyboi Film Review: Intersex Crime Thriller

River Gallo and Dylan O'Brien look at each other in the film Ponyboi by Esteban Arango

Ponyboi is an above average crime thriller that showcases the talents of intersex writer, producer and lead actor River Gallo.

Ponyboi follows the titular character (River Gallo), who is an intersex sex worker who gets mixed up in a drug deal gone dangerously wrong. The film takes place over the 24 hours of Ponyboi’s quest to safety, after he was forced to flee his home state of New Jersey. I’m unsure if I’ve ever seen a film with an intersex character, but having River Gallo both write and star in Ponyboi is a huge step in representation

The film’s greatest strength is the fun cast of characters we get to meet throughout its runtime. Dylan O’Brien and Victoria Pedretti’s roles – Ponyboi’s pimp and best friend, respectively – are completely different from the rest of their filmographies. Murray Bartlett is also great here, playing a cowboy who helps Ponyboi try to escape his circumstances. Out of these three main supporting performances, Bartlett is the strongest due to his undeniable chemistry with Gallo.

However, out of these more extroverted supporting players, Gallo delivers a grounding leading turn that anchors the film emotionally. Ponyboi goes through a lot physically and mentally during the film’s runtime, and Gallo plays him with such confidence that it’s hard to believe that this is a character at times. I can’t wait for intersex people to watch them shine here, and serve as an interaction for more of this identity in major film and television. 

River Gallo and Dylan O'Brien look at each other in the film Ponyboi by Esteban Arango
River Gallo and Dylan O’Brien appear in Ponyboi by Esteban Arango, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

This is a crime thriller told in a day, and this particular take has never been seen before, but the conventions of this story have been seen plenty of times before. You can guess where the film will end up from the halfway point, and while it is still enjoyable, there isn’t anything original enough to call Ponyboi a masterpiece. There are occasional flashbacks about Ponyboi’s past, and the history of his intersex identity, which are especially compelling, but this side plot has still been seen before, just with different identities. 

Overall, Ponyboi is a perfectly enjoyable film. With a fun supporting cast and an astounding lead performance, there is a lot to appreciate with this movie, especially as a landmark in intersex representation. Ponyboi is worth a watch for those reasons alone, but anyone who likes a darker crime film will surely eat this up as well. Hopefully this can get a wide release so that the world can be exposed to the talents of River Gallo!

Ponyboi premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Read our list of 20 films to watch at Sundance 2024 and take a look at all our Sundance reviews!

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