But Jackson does appreciate the nod toward the women of classic country.

"When I was recording for Capitol [Records], Hank Thompson took my demonstration record to the producer, Ken Nelson, and [Nelson] said, 'I'm really not interested because girls don't sell records.'"

And then, sometime that year, Kitty Wells had a number-one country song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," Jackson says.

(From left) Christopher Pomerenke, Caplan, rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, and Ryan Page
(From left) Christopher Pomerenke, Caplan, rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, and Ryan Page

Location Info


Harkins Scottsdale 101

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Region: North Phoenix

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Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Cave Creek


Queens of Country is scheduled to premiere Saturday, March 31, at the Phoenix Film Festival, with additional screenings on Tuesday, April 3, and Wednesday, April 4. Visit www.phoenixfilmfestival.com for more information.

"After that, they were open to the idea of women recording, and so [Wells] really broke the ice and the glass ceiling for us."

Though she's aided by fantastic camera work and a great soundtrack, Lizzy Caplan is what makes Queens of Country work.

The 29-year-old actress' career has been ascending since her role in 2004's Mean Girls (she plays the nerdy Janis Ian) — she appeared in Hot Tub Time Machine and played Amy Burley in the first season of steamy vampire soap opera True Blood.

It was her role as Casey Klein, in the excellent (but short-lived) television comedy Party Down, that brought her to the attention of Page and Pomerenke.

"A lot of directors will say that they got their dream cast," Page says. "Of course, we know that's bullshit 95 percent of the time. Directors cast who they can cast. They cast who they can get. But with Lizzy, in our case, it's 100 percent true. We sat down with her agent and said, 'We want Lizzy for this role.'"

Caplan says, "The role was so different from any character I'd played. The real world confuses Jolene, so she creates her own parallel reality and surrounds herself with people willing to buy into the fantasy. I realize I am defining an insane person, and I thought that would be fun to play."

She slides easily into the role, with her big hair and sequined dresses molding her into a vision of country gold long past.

"I was sort of a country fan before signing on," Caplan says. "A little Kristofferson, a little Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, but I wasn't as familiar with a lot of the ladies. Ryan and Christopher loaded up an iPod with tons of music from Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, etc., and that's all I listened to for many months. The general badassery of the classic female country singers blows me away."

While today's female country stars — Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood come to mind — aren't lacking in the looks department, Caplan's character possesses the ornate class of an old-time country-music beauty.

"We really play with Jolene being stuck in the past," Page says. "She thinks everyone is just sort of slippin' into the future. She wants to pump the brakes and go in reverse 100 miles per hour. That's a sentiment that I think a lot of people feel, especially fans of country music. It's like, 'I don't know if everything in the world is going in the right direction.'"

The other characters aren't relics, but they're hardly tethered to reality. Rance McCoy, played with a bumbling dick-ishness by Livingston, spouts from The Conqueror (the 1956 film in which John Wayne inexplicably plays Genghis Khan) during sex scenes and lives in a giant, ranch-style home he seemingly can afford through his job as an ATV salesman.

"As you know, casting is a lot of it," Page says. "Your cast either clicks, and you do good work, or people are miscast, and you have a mess on your hands."

Livingston says, "I saw the script, and thought [it] was hilarious, although really kind of unorthodox, kind of strange, and a little crazy. My first take on reading it was, it's . . . almost like a Coen brothers comedy crossed with an Adult Swim cartoon. One hundred years ago, they would have called it absurdist. Shit happens that doesn't make any sense, but you laugh at it."

Then, there's Penny, a pre-op transsexual played by Joe Lo Truglio, a veteran of the same comedic troupe that developed Reno 911, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, and the recent Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston film Wanderlust. Lo Truglio plays Penny in Queens of Country with such disarming sincerity that you almost forget he's wearing a five o'clock shadow with his dress.

Though the characters are wacked (Keenan's character, in particular), the inherent comedy comes because nobody hams it up.

"I wouldn't say it's entirely straight. I think there's a bigger-than-life quality to it," Livingston says. "There's a little bit of George W. and a little bit of Yosemite Sam and, like, shit my grandpa used to say."

Serene Dominic says, "Chris said something interesting. [The movie's] almost like a Spanish telenovela — it's like one of those TV soap operas, because everyone is doing their characters so straight, but most of them are a bit over the top. The Penny character is almost ridiculous, but we didn't play up the freak angle."

But the question lingers: Is there a market for a movie with a big heart and offbeat characters?

"It could go either way," Livingston says. "It could be a smash hit or [the audience] could set the theater on fire."

Queens of Country ends on the dance floor, with Rance and Jolene squaring off in a line-dancing competition.

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