Directed by: Trey Edward Shults.
Written by: Trey Edward Shults.
Starring: Krisha Fairchild (Krisha), Olivia Grace Applegate (Olivia), Bryan Casserly (Logan), Alex Dobrenko (Alex), Chris Doubek (Dr. Becker), Billie Fairchild (Grandma), Robyn Fairchild (Robyn), Victoria Fairchild (Vicky), Atheena Frizzell (Atheena), Augustine Frizzell (Augustine), Chase Joliet (Chase), Rose Nelson (Rose), Trey Edward Shults (Trey), Bill Wise (Doyle).
The barebones plot description of Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha makes it sounds like any number of Sundance films. An aging woman, Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), who has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, returns to her family after years away, now apparently clean, and over the course of a long, Thanksgiving day, the past is drudged up, and she threatens to spiral out of control again, even as she struggles to put things right. The fact that it is inspired by the filmmaker’s own family – most of whom are playing a version of themselves (though not Krisha herself) in the film, makes it sound even more Sundance-y – the type of film that gets raves when it plays there, and then shrugs when it opens a few months later. But Krisha is a different sort of film altogether (maybe that’s why it didn’t actually premiere at Sundance – but at SXSW instead). This is no quirky family, who appears dysfunctional, but deep down, everything is normal, where eventually everything will turn out okay, with hugs and tears right before the lights come out. It is a portrait of a woman who simply cannot stop or help herself – and the pain this causes the rest of her family. And it is an unflinching portrait. It is also, a brilliantly assured directorial debut from Shults – who has made a film that feels kind of like what would happen if John Cassavetes, Robert Altman and David Lynch collaborated to make a film – which, of course, means it really is a true original.
In the title role, Krisha Fairchild delivers one of the best performances you will see this year. She is an actress who has worked sporadically for years, while also dabbling in other professions as well, who at the age of 65, has been given the role of a lifetime, and she makes the most of it. She did the film as a favor to her nephew – Shults, the writer/director – but her talent is evident in every frame. She is the lone professional actor in the cast – and she certainly does outshine the rest of them – but she also fits in with them as well. When she first blusters into the house, harried, late, with a giant wheeled suitcase, making excuses, everyone is at first kind to her – but also, clearly holding back. Over the course of the day, she will see and sense the glances exchanged by those around her, none of whom seem completely able to meet her gaze. She has a painfully awkward conversation with one of the 20-something year old young men in the family, Trey (the director himself), although the exact nature of their relationship isn’t spelled out until the final few minutes of the movie. She’s trying very hard to connect with him – but he isn’t having it – as he sits there, painfully quiet, and barely looking at her, as she goes on and on.
These scenes - of Krisha trying very hard to fit in – and increasingly intercut with other scenes of Krisha – as she retreats to the backyard for a cigarette, and more and more often, going into a bathroom, and taking some pills – and later a smuggled bottle of wine. As the film progresses, the realism of the opening scenes gives way to something more surreal – Shults, who edited the film himself, does a masterful job at placing us in Krisha’s warped perception as things spiral out of control. He also does a great job of infusing something as mundane as a turkey cooking in the oven, with undeniable tension.
The movie isn’t perfect. Even if Krisha plays out in ways not wholly anticipated in terms of these kinds of drug addict returns home stories, it’s not that far off either in terms of the broader strokes. At just 82 minutes long, the final scenes feel rushed – as if Shults could have spent a little bit more time in the company of this family. Perhaps the best scene in the movie takes place in these moments – a conversation between Krisha and her sister Robyn (played by Krisha’s real life sister Robyn), in an upstairs bathroom, where all the years of pain, torment and betrayal come spilling out. The movie could have perhaps used a little bit more of this.
Yet, Krisha is overall, a stunning debut feature from Shults – and marks him as one of the most promising directors to emerge in quite some time. In Krisha Fairchild, he found the perfect actress to anchor his film – the pain and torment is evident on her face throughout. Fairchild has been around for while, but seems to know the type of role she got her is rare – and makes the most of it. It is one of the best performances of the year, in a film by a director I am sure we will hear more from in the future.