Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Movie Review: Where is Kyra?

Where Is Kyra? *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Andrew Dosunmu.
Written by: Darci Picoult and Andrew Dosunmu.
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer (Kyra), Kiefer Sutherland (Doug), Suzanne Shepherd (Ruth), Sam Robards (Henry), Bradley W. Anderson (Owen), Celia Au (Eve), MaameYaa Boafo (Casey), Elizabeth Evans (Becky), Gabe Fazio (Mitch), Marc Menchaca (Vine), Anthony Okungbowa (Detective Brennan).
As movie stars age, they often have to find a way to evolve if they want to keep working. This is especially true of women who are often seen as past their prime by 30, and positively ancient by 40 – that’s just part of the nature of this sexist industry. Perhaps that partially explains why Michelle Pfeiffer took four years off between movies recently – not appearing in anything after 2013’s The Family  - until last year when she returned with a vengeance in films like The Wizard of Lies, playing Bernie Madoff’s wife and mother! essentially playing both the snake and Eve in the Garden of Eden (she was also in Murder on the Orient Express and Ant-Man and the Wasp – but neither quite makes use of her talent). Still one of the most stunning women at the age of 60, Pfeiffer delivers one of the best performances of her career in Where is Kyra – a film that requires Pfeiffer to disappear into her role in a way that few – if any – previous Pfeiffer films have asked of her. It’s an interesting trick that Pfeiffer is able to pull off in this movie – where she seems more anonymous than ever before.
The film takes place in Brooklyn, and finds Pfeiffer’s Kyra has newly moved there, in with her ailing mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) to help care for her as she slowly withers away. She has been trying to find a job – even a part time one – but nothing seems to be available. Gradually we learn about her life – a recently failed marriage, a layoff, a move from Virginia, etc. She and her mother don’t have much money – but they are getting by. Once her mother dies however, it becomes a different story. With no income of her own, Kyra goes to increasingly desperate lengths to keep her head above water, a roof over her head. She is a woman without a support system – she knows no one in Brooklyn, and is cutoff from her life in Virginia. Her only friend is Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a nice man who lives in the same building, who she meets in a bar. He has had his own problems – not unlike Kyra’s – in the past, but has found a way to survive. Their relationship is quiet and rather sweet – but Kyra keeps her cards close to her chest here, as she does with everyone.
Where is Kyra is a quiet film – a very quiet one. Director Andrew Dosunmu, whose Mother of George (2013) got great reviews (somehow, I missed it) and the great cinematographer Bradford Young have crafted a dark movie – literally – painting with shadows. The shots last a long time in the movie – often just concentrating on Kyra as one disappointment after another befalls her. They often hold the shots an uncomfortably long period of time – trapping us alongside Kyra as she becomes desperate. In the most difficult scene to watch, she returns to her ex-husband – and his new, pregnant wife – asking for money she knows he doesn’t have either. The shot concentrates on Pfeiffer’s face minute after minute as she makes this uncomfortable request, and doesn’t let anyone off the hook.
The film may in fact be a little too slow for its own good – and a little to repetitious, as we have to watch Kyra in one situation after another, but many are the same. Part of this is the strategy of the movie, of course – but it’s still a little too drawn out, a little too much a parade of misery. There are few things in the movie I had trouble believing (she would need to go to a bank teller anymore to cash a cheque for example).
Yet even with that flaw, Pfeiffer is able to keep the movie interesting and engrossing throughout. She has always been a great actress – although I fear sometimes she wasn’t given credit for that because she is so stunningly beautiful. Here, doing a small indie for one of the first times in her career, she more than proves that she has a lot left to give – and can do so in a completely new gear if she wants to.

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