A correction was made to this review at March 31, 2005.
Winner of top jury and audience prizes for docs at the SXSW Film Festival, “Cowboy Del Amor” is richly amusing and sporadically insightful as it offers an up-close-and-personal view of Ivan Thompson, a self-proclaimed “cowboy cupid” who plays matchmaker between American men and Mexican women. Pic could be a breakout theatrical performer if a savvy distrib manages to sell the idiosyncratic subject as an instant celebrity through print features and TV talkshow appearances.
Thompson, a crusty and wisecracking retired New Mexico cowboy with a perpetual air of wily folksiness, comes across with unaffected ease on camera while unabashedly describing his ongoing career in “the woman business.” Blithely dismissing criticism (and, apparently, a fair amount of hate mail) from irate feminists on either side of the border, he prides himself on his ability to find suitable spouses in Mexico for American men — for a $3,000 fee.
Documentarian Michele Ohayon (helmer of Oscar-nominated “Colors Straight Up”) takes an obviously bemused yet scrupulously nonjudgmental approach to Thompson and his clientele.
Rick, an affable long-distance truck driver, says he hired Thompson because “American women — most of them, not all of them — are too hard to please.” The trucker accompanies Thompson to Torreon, a working class city in the Mexican heartland, where they advertise in local papers for worthy prospects.
It’s standard procedure for Thompson to serve as chief negotiator between his client and marriage-minded applicants (who can obtain U.S. citizenship by marrying a gringo). But the cowboy admits even he can’t fully control matters of the heart, especially when a client literally falls in love at first sight.
Pic acknowledges Thompson doesn’t have a 100% success rate — an attempted match between a used car dealer and a strong-willed businesswoman doesn’t quite jell — but indicates even his more dubious achievements have a satisfying upside.
Funniest scenes focus on Thompson’s own matrimonial misadventures. Twice married to the same Mexican woman, he speaks fondly of their happy years together even as he bemoans a final divorce settlement “that only left me with the piss-ants and the tumbleweeds.” (Still, as a reunion sequence indicates, he remains on good terms with the ex-wife and her children by earlier marriage.)
Undeterred by his personal experiences, he promises to continue matchmaking, despite incursions by newer and larger companies in the same business. “It’s like when Wal-Mart comes to town,” he complains. “It weeds out the mom-and-pop stores.”
Attractive tech package includes impressive work by lenser Theo Van de Sande and Tex-Mex flavored score by Joseph Julian Gonzalez.