Sundance Film Festival Reviews
JANUARY 23, 2017
THE YEAR OF LA PFEIFFER KICKS OFF WITH “WHERE IS KYRA?”, OFFICIAL SELECTED BY SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AND HAD ITS FIRST SCREENING TWO DAYS AGO IN THE MARC. A COUPLE OF REVIEWS JUST ONLINE WITH TWO BEST THINGS ABOUT THE MOVIE: MICHELLE PFEIFFER & THE BEAUTIFUL CINEMATOGRAPHY. SCREENDAILY DESCRIBED THE MOVIE IS A POWERFULLY MOODY CHARACTER STUDY ANCHORED BY A REMARKABLE PERFORMANCE FROM MICHELLE PFEIFFER, WHILE YAHOO SAID IT’S A DIVERSE SLATE OF MOVIES THAT SHOULD HIGHLIGHT PFEIFFER’S RICH RANGE AS A PERFORMER — AND MAKE US MISS HER ALL OVER AGAIN.
HERE’S THE FULL ARTICLE OF THE REVIEWS:
Michelle Pfeiffer excels in an intimate story about a woman on the edge of financial ruin.
One might as well ask: Where was Michelle Pfeiffer? The actor is back like she hasn’t been in years—like never before, really—in this superb, downbeat drama about a divorced Brooklyn woman slipping through the economic cracks. One of the most iconic actors of the ’80s and ’90s, Pfeiffer supplied moxie to Scarface and Married to the Mob, and exquisite radiance to The Age of Innocence. And while those qualities peek through in her performance of the title role of Where Is Kyra?, this is more of an opportunity for subtler shades of regret, nervousness, wary reconnection and, ultimately, desperation. Pfeiffer is nothing short of heartbreaking in a part that requires her to be completely unvarnished.
As we learn through minimal shards of visual information, Kyra lives with her aging, failing mother in a dingy one-bedroom apartment thirsting for sunlight. (Shot by Arrival’s gifted cinematographer Bradford Young, the movie takes drab interiors to a depressing new low, swallowing up Pfeiffer in dark fields of gloom.) She’s childless, friendless and constantly on the job hunt, toting a purse crammed with spare bus change. And when the one person in her life is suddenly gone, Kyra—wrecked by grief and a loneliness that will be shaded in over time—has zero income. She can’t legally cash her mother’s government checks.
Above and beyond his commendable interest in an all-too-real tragedy for many, co-writer-director Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George) has made a proper old-school indie, one that feels as scrappy as its main character and which keeps its incident to a drip. Instead, the momentum plays wholly on Pfeiffer’s face: her growing worry and small-hours math. (A shrieking metal-on-metal score by Philip Miller is slightly on the nose.) Kyra ends up throwing herself at another struggling soul she meets in a bar, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), who is either her last chance at happiness or a convenient stave against potential eviction. Where Is Kyra? has the build of a galvanizing short story, and if it feels too meager for a feature, that’s on us to adjust to its insistent beat of personal ruination.
By Joshua Rothkopf | TIMEOUT
‘Where Is Kyra?’ Review: Michelle Pfeiffer Gives Her Best Performance in Years in This Sad Little Drama — Sundance 2017
The director of “Mother of George” returns with this imperfect but undeniably haunting showcase for the actress.
It’s been years since we’ve been treated to a great Michelle Pfeiffer performance, and “Where Is Kyra” finally gives her that platform. The tragic, understated character study from “Mother of George” director Andrew Dosunmu constructs a hypnotic portrait of despair out of Pfeiffer’s sullen expression; opposite Kiefer Sutherland as her romantic interest, Pfieffer anchors this shadowy New York mood piece about a despondent middle-aged woman wrestling to find a modicum of stability.
Dosunmu’s atmospheric approach, which derives much of its style from long takes and lengthier pauses, provides both actors with the most experimental cinematic challenge of their resumes to date, and they tackle the assignment with palpable depth. “Where Is Kyra” falls short of channeling their performances into a fully satisfying whole, but it nevertheless fuses the talent of an ambitious filmmaker with actors eager to operate on his wavelength. “Mother of George” and “Restless City” proved Dosunmu had a penchant for eloquent stories about marginalized lives, and “Where Is Kyra?” solidifies his calculated approach.
Nearly half an hour passes before the title card comes up, and Dosunmu uses the time to develop an introduction to Kyra’s life. Living in a cramped apartment with her ailing mother, Kyra’s a divorced and unemployed bookkeeper with little apparent purpose beyond the care she puts into keeping the dying woman comfortable. When she does die, Kyra’s left uncertain about her next moves, her loneliness compounded by pressing financial problems when she realizes she can’t access her late mother’s funds. Dosunmu gradually assembles these details while lingering in the sad, quiet moments that define Kyra’s existence: Her oddly vapid expression as she rides the subway to her mother’s house, and the seconds that drag by after she turns off her mother’s oxygen, go great lengths toward immersing us in the haunting rhythms of this world.
Dosunmu’s regular cinematographer Bradford Young (who has entered the big leagues since “Mother of George” with “Selma,” “Arrival” and an upcoming “Star Wars” film to his name) bathe most of the interior scenes in darkness, often to the point where the characters appear in silhouette, an effective means of evoking their fragile mindsets. That approach extends to Doug (Sutherland), the lonely alcoholic who picks up Kyra at a grungy bar and quickly becomes her only support system. But their courtship has an aura of desperation; when they first sleep together, Donsunmu lingers on the remarkable shot of her wrinkled arms dangling from the top of the bed and whittle away into the surrounding darkness.
Much of the movie finds Kyra wandering the streets in search of any job; when she realizes even minimum wage table gigs aren’t readily available, she winds up handing out flyers on the street. Her situation is slightly underdeveloped, but ultimately fuels a key decision that puts her in greater danger than she anticipated, as “Where Is Kyra?” pivots from a grim drama to suspense.
At its best, the movie captures the gritty feel of a New York movie that could have been made 40 years ago; individual scenes of Kyra wandering the crowded sidewalk wouldn’t look out of place in “Panic in Needle Park.” But Dosunmu show less interest in advancing Kyra’s story than hovering in her despair, twisting the knife deeper with relentless pressure. While her story is unfailingly gorgeous, the stiff aesthetic has a stultifying effect on the developing tension.
Nevertheless, the movie casts an unmistakable spell out of Pfeiffer’s ability to imbue Kyra with a profound sense of sorrow. The camera observes her face in extreme, unflattering closeups that uncover a patchwork of regrets, help to explain the self-destructive decisions she makes that lead to a thrilling confrontation in the movie’s climax. “Where Is Kyra?” ends as it begins, on Pfeiffer’s face, this time bathed in bright colors that suggest she’s at once awake to the world and trapped by it.
By Eric Kohn | IndieWire
Where Is Kyra? Sundance 2017 Review
So much of so many film festivals — Sundance especially — feel enormously focused on metropolitan life, New York City in particular. In Where Is Kyra?, director Andrew Dosunmu finds fertile ground in this well-worn location. Starring an against-type and utterly fascinating Michelle Pfeiffer as the titular Kyra, the film narrows in on the tragedy of getting old in America.
Written by Darci Picoult and lensed by the great (and recently Oscar-nominated) Bradford Young, this film lives in the shadows, both visually and conversationally. Kyra is an unemployed, middle-aged woman looking after her elderly mother (Suzanne Shepherd). After her mother’s death, she finds herself alone in a big, noisy city with no money and a sufficient lack of job prospects. When her credit card is declined trying to buy a drink at a local bar, a handsome neighbor named Doug (Kiefer Sutherland) enters the picture.
In handling her mother’s affairs, Kyra makes crucial mistake that opens a door to some easy, illegal money. As she tenderly walks this path, we see the inevitable end in sight. Luckily, Dosunmu is less concerned about the destination than he is about the journey. Young wraps every single scene of the picture with frames that are fractured, dour and complicated. In no other film from this year’s festival has the camera said more. Consider an opening shot in which Kyra prepares to bathe her mother, waiting patiently in the tub. The camera observes from afar, until a door is opened and a reflection is revealed that transform the same shot into something wholly new and interesting without ever adjusting the frame.
It feels like we haven’t seen Pfeiffer in years, and that’s mostly true. Most recently, she’s added The Family, People Like Us, Dark Shadows to her resume, all of which came out a near half-decade ago. This is a more fully-realized performance than anything she’s done in some time. Physical in every conceivable way (without giving too much away), it’s the kind of turn that will hopefully draw attention back to this talented performer. Sutherland is also commendable as Kyra’s potential knight in shining armor, a good man with a past he’s continually trying to make amends for.
Of course, this is not a world with knights. It’s barely a world with people who pay attention to one another. Dosunmu and company attempt to reflect this isolation with a music score that includes a fascinatingly aggravating industrial grind sound that plays over Kyra roaming the city. It is loud and brutal and unforgettable. In other moments, Kyra stands below an above-ground subway as it passes by, the train blaring violently.
This is the kind of city where people are forgotten and nobody gives it a second thought. As Kyra continues to melt away, despite all Doug does to help, we feel sympathy and understanding, but also feel there’s nothing to be done. This is the world we’re living in. A tough, cynical lesson to be sure, but one clearly delivered.
By Dan Mecca | THE FILM STAGE
Sundance Film Review: ‘Where Is Kyra?’
A soul-searing Michelle Pfeiffer makes a welcome return in Andrew Dosunmu’s difficult, visually stunning study in psychic pain.
There’s an awful lot of ravishing beauty on display in “Where Is Kyra?,” Nigerian-born filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu’s startling new visual ode to life on the New York fringes, and it’s safe to say the characters on screen see none of it. Through the lens of ingenious cinematographer Bradford Young, dingy apartment corridors turn to blazing crimson purgatories, drab Goodwill ensembles turn to iridescent haute couture, and the extraordinary face of Michelle Pfeiffer remains, well, that same extraordinary face — though one senses that Kyra, the near-destitute divorcee she plays to scarring effect in this downward-spiraling economic tragedy, long ago stopped seeing anything in the mirror.
Every bit as formally exciting as Dosunmu’s previous film, 2013’s glorious Yoruba-focused drama “Mother of George,” “Where Is Kyra?” proves a cooler, less emotionally rewarding experience, with Darci Picoult’s ultra-lean script giving Pfeiffer’s fearless performance fewer notes to play as it goes along. Commercial interest in “Kyra” will be sparse as a result: Though the casting of Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland hinted at a crossover project for Dosunmu, this is daring, even radical work that asserts its maker’s singularity first and foremost. For Pfeiffer, meanwhile, one hopes this will prove a gateway into the kind of independent cinema where her crisp, canny gifts as an actor are both wanted and needed. After a four-year absence from screens, preceded by such wasteful commercial projects as “The Family,” it’s a positive joy to see her playing a living, breathing, bruised human being — even if “joy” is not a word likely to be re-used in any description of this sad, shattered character study.
Dosunmu and Picoult take their time in revealing the exact circumstances of Kyra’s misfortune, though Young’s shadow-wrapped images plunge us immediately into her forlorn headspace. In a masterfully constructed shot near the outset, viewed through not one but two doors left ajar, Kyra and her ailing mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) are viewed pensively alone in neighboring rooms, before Kyra joins Ruth to assist with bathtime — an aching tableau of tender weariness, all caught in a mere sliver of the frame. Dosunmu and Young make us wait for a closeup, and viewers might feel they’re squinting to see Kyra clearly in the permanent gloaming of her mother’s tired Brooklyn apartment.
That’s no accident in a portrait of a woman at whom nobody cares to truly look. Not the few, shuffling guests at the funeral after Ruth quietly passes. Not the bosses at the grim, cheap offices and diners she trudges through for failed job interview after failed job interview. And in what becomes a narratively crucial point, certainly not the tellers at the bank where she cashes Ruth’s disability checks. Even in close-up she threatens to vanish, as whole planes of Pfeiffer’s face are masked by Young’s velvety shadows: Without a word of rhetoric from the script, Dosunmu pointedly illustrates how society renders single women above a certain age invisible. In a recurring image, introduced in the opening shot and contextualized as the narrative progresses, a stooped, elderly-looking woman struggles along the sidewalk, her face obscured — a bleak symbol of sorts for society’s disenfranchised, here granted the admittedly dim spotlight.
Slowly the specifics of Kyra’s desperation trickle out, though it’s nothing you couldn’t guess at: the recent collapse of a longstanding marriage in Virginia, being made redundant from her job there, moving back home. It’s sob story to which only scuzzy, tattooed slacker Doug (Sutherland), whose life is perhaps one iota more assembled than Kyra’s, lends a listening ear; to her surprise, a casual romance develops between them, but it’s clear that this is not a world of happily-ever-afters. (Or happily-ever-befores, for that matter.)
The sheer monotony of Kyra’s despair is appropriately oppressive — if she doesn’t get a break from her life, neither should the audience — though it does make Dosunmu’s film an increasingly tough, alienating sit. (Philip Miller’s metallic, sometimes screechingly abrasive score, while in tune with our protagonist’s inner agony, doesn’t make it any easier.) The emotional range of Pfeiffer’s riveting performance isn’t a broad one, though this frequently nonverbal film is entirely reliant on her cutting powers of expression as she progresses from harrowed to exhausted and back, at risk of disappearing into herself entirely.
It’s ostensibly a generous showcase for the actress, and certainly her strongest screen role since 2002’s “White Oleander.” But Pfeiffer rather selflessly applies herself as a component in Dosunmu’s intoxicating mise-en-scène, blending into and assuming the mood of its exacting compositions. Young has been practicing and expanding his signature aesthetic of intimate underlighting in ever larger projects — recently nabbing a deserved Oscar nomination for his work on Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival.” “Where Is Kyra?” returns him to his small-scale roots in a seductive, quasi-experimental manner, playing liberally with saturated color, extreme depth of field and the manifold textures of darkness. As a painter of light on human skin, he may be without current equal in American cinema: A key sustained shot of Pfeiffer’s face in unhappy repose, as dancing emergency-services lights change its angles and accents, is this challenging film’s most brilliant example of thespian and filmic technique in perfect symbiosis.
By Guy Lodge | VARIETY
Sundance: Pfeiffer in Her Best Roles in Years
Andrew Dosunmu’s Where Is Kyra? and Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner appear to have very little in common other than the fact that they both feature a star actress getting her biggest and best role in years: Michelle Pfeiffer in the former, Salma Hayek in the latter. But if recent months have taught us anything, it is that everything means something more now — that every film, good or bad, reverberates out into a world of pain and fear and political urgency.
Pfeiffer is often the sole figure onscreen in Where Is Kyra?, playing a Brooklyn woman who falls into increasingly dire circumstances after the passing of her ailing mother, whom she had been taking care of for some time. Unable to find any work — she’s either too old, too late, or too poor to get the gigs — Pfeiffer’s Kyra descends further into desperation. She strikes a romantic relationship with a nursing home attendant (played by Kiefer Sutherland) who himself is trying to stay on the straight and narrow after screwing up his life. He’s poor, too, but at least he has money for beer and food, and he likes spending it on her. Is she with him because she needs help, or does she really care for him? The reasons aren’t clear to us — and they’re probably not clear to Kyra either.
The story turns on what might have been just a quirky plot-point in another movie: When mom’s pension checks keep coming even after her death, Kyra begins dressing as the dead woman to try and cash them at the bank. This is not, however, the story of a grifter or a welfare cheat. It’s about the things we do to survive in extreme circumstances, and Dosunmu’s grim gaze never wavers from Kyra’s predicament. The director, whose last film was the sublime Mother of George (written, like Kyra, by Darci Picoult) and cinematographer Bradford Young sheathe Kyra in oppressive darkness, and they hold on her for extended periods — even when other characters are speaking or acting. Close-ups often show her half-concealed in the gloom, emerging from pitch-black corners of the screen. No lamp gives off enough light, no street scene is bright enough. A pall has descended over this woman’s life. Rarely on film has the sheer debilitating exhaustion of poverty been so clearly conveyed.
The director is fond of static, off-balance compositions with very shallow focus, but he also likes to point his camera directly into his actress’s face, one of the great visages of modern cinema. Pfeiffer is beautiful, but when we look at Kyra we see is fatigue, anger, loneliness, hopelessness.The way Dosunmu shoots her, she feels somehow both fragile and unchanging: It wouldn’t take much to turn Kyra herself into a blur, to erase her from the screen completely; but the broader sorrow that she represents will never go away. Where Is Kyra? She’s in the midst of disappearing, but she’s also everywhere.
By Bilge Ebiri | LA WEEKLY
‘Where Is Kyra?’: Sundance Review
A shattering portrait of a luckless woman unable to pull out of the tailspin that is her life, Where Is Kyra? is a powerfully moody character study anchored by a remarkable performance from Michelle Pfeiffer. The new film from Mother Of George director Andrew Dosunmu flirts with tragedy at every step, but the confidence of the filmmaking and the steely resolve in Pfeiffer’s eyes keep the viewer hoping that the titular middle-aged protagonist will find her way clear of the debt and depression that have laid her low. The resolution of Kyra’s dilemma is both startling and perfectly in keeping with Dosunmu’s observant, clear-eyed approach.
Premiering at Sundance, Where Is Kyra? will undoubtedly be billed as Pfeiffer’s comeback after more than a decade of forgettable supporting roles. This intimate drama about a character spiralling out of control may be too bleak for mainstream crowds, but strong reviews should propel the film to modest art-house success.
As Where Is Kyra? begins, Kyra (Pfeiffer) is caring for her aged mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) in New York — but soon, the inevitable occurs and Ruth dies. Kyra, who seems to have no one else in her life, is distraught, but a more worrying concern presents itself when she can’t cash her mother’s disability checks. Out of work for two years and unable to afford the rent for Ruth’s apartment, Kyra panics, with only a handsome neighbour, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), to rely on.
Dosunmu reunites with Mother Of George cinematographer Bradford Young for Where Is Kyra?, and the two collaborators craft a sumptuous, low-lit New York in which a literal and metaphorical darkness is encroaching into the characters’ world. On paper, Where Is Kyra?’s storyline might feel familiar, calling to mind dramas such as Time Out Of Mind and The Pursuit Of Happyness in which major stars play characters battling poverty or homelessness. But Dosunmu and Young’s ravishingly sombre visual design strips away any romanticism from the proceedings, plunging us into the gritty desperation of Kyra’s predicament.
Similarly, Darci Picoult’s spare screenplay presents this anxious love story between Kyra and Doug as one built out of shared loneliness. Sutherland’s muted turn expertly captures a character who’s trying to remake himself after past, unspecified failures, and the two actors’ rapport is edgy and weary — as if a happy ending isn’t something they’ve ever allowed themselves the luxury to consider.
With her funds dwindling, Kyra decides to do something rash, dressing up in her late mother’s bulky clothes and dark sunglasses in order to deposit Ruth’s checks. Unquestionably, this is a stupid plan, and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, it would seem so preposterous that the audience would find the plot development laughable. But it’s a credit to Dosunmu and Pfeiffer that, not only do we accept this narrative twist, we understand why Kyra has been driven to such a foolish course of action.
In small, select moments, Where Is Kyra? intriguingly fleshes out the character’s backstory, and the telling details suggest a woman who seems to be a magnet for unfortunate circumstances. Pfeiffer is absorbing in the role, but it’s not a scene-chewing performance. Rather, she quietly burrows into Kyra’s twitchy anxiety, making us feel the character’s growing helplessness.
That panic only escalates after she begins her check-cashing scheme — and, later, when she runs afoul of the police. No one would confuse Where Is Kyra? with a thriller, but Dosunmu subtly cranks up the suspense so beautifully that, when Kyra’s moment of truth arrives, we’re astonished by its emotional wallop. But even at the end, Pfeiffer’s fiery eyes stare at us, hinting at Kyra’s untold depths of agony and disappointment that this marvellously conceived film have only begun to explore.
By Tim Grierson, Senior US Critic | SCREENDAILY
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as a destitute New York woman in director Andrew Dosunmu’s follow-up to his earlier Sundance titles ‘Mother of George’ and ‘Restless City.’
Poverty and destitution never looked as gorgeous as they do in the moody arthouse drama Where is Kyra? The third fiction feature from Sundance regular Andrew Dosunmu, after Mother of George and Restless City, casts Michelle Pfeiffer as an unemployed New Yorker whose money troubles grow exponentially after the death of her mother, who received a disability pension. This leads Kyra to do something rather radical that her sort-of boyfriend, played by Kiefer Sutherland, does not approve of.
Shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) in what is arguably his career-best work in terms of the camerawork’s sheer breathtaking beauty, Where is Kyra? sheds a most exquisitely modulated penumbral light on those in the margins of society that would normally remain invisible. Whether there is an audience for such a heavily aestheticized take on the hardships of poverty remains to be seen, however, and the film’s biggest commercial hurdle will likely be to try and avoid the moniker “poverty porn” at all costs.
The film opens with a long shot of an old lady slowly shuffling along a nondescript street in Queens in the mid-distance and variations on this image reappear throughout the film. It not only establishes Dosunmu’s most important visual leitmotif up front but also functions as a kind of litmus test for the audience: If you think this drawn-out, wordless scene is slow and/or devoid of interest, this movie is definitely not for you.
The screenwriter of Mother of George, Darci Picoult, wrote this film’s screenplay as well and her work here isn’t very dialogue-heavy. As if to mirror that idea visually, Nigerian-born Dosunmu and Young initially don’t even seem all that interested in the faces of the characters, with the early going playing out in medium shots, in which most of the action occurs behind doorposts or beyond a mirror frame, or in closer shots with an extremely limited depth of field. Even during the day, the light levels in the duo’s modest apartment are low, enveloping the characters in gorgeously textured shadows. Still, it is possible to piece together an idea of what is happening: the ailing Ruth (the great Suzanne Shepherd) needs the help of her middle-aged daughter, Kyra (Pfeiffer), to do things as simple as take a bath. Or perhaps she pretends that she does, so that the out-of-work Kyra doesn’t feel entirely useless around the house and feels like she deserves her share of her mom’s disability checks.
Perhaps the first time in which we get a proper look at Kyra is an unexpected shot of her while taking public transportation. The close-up is so tight we don’t see if there are even any other people riding with her but even so, the framing and the rather surreal play of light around and behind her suggests Kyra is something of an alien or at least an outsider. Indeed, Dosunmu often resorts to visuals rather than dialogue to tell the story, especially in the opening stretch, with audiences forced to piece together an idea of where this might be going before the director starts giving some clues after the death of Ruth, still pre-title card but already almost 20 minutes in.
The bulk of the film is concerned with Kyra’s ever-growing desperation as she fails to find a job and her money problems keep growing; her cards max out; the heating and then her phone — the latter crucially important when waiting for answers on job applications — get cut off and the threat of eviction looms. Unexpectedly, she strikes up a friendship-with-benefits of sorts with Doug (Sutherland), who works several odd jobs to keep afloat and who unexpectedly takes a shine to Kyra. In one of the film’s boldest visual moves, Dosunmu and Young keep their camera focused on their titular heroine at almost all times, with Doug often off-camera even when he’s speaking. It is here that a possible second meaning of the title starts to crystallize: We constantly see Kyra physically but is anyone still there, mentally? Is it possible for someone so consumed by her misfortune and constant money worries to still have dreams, desires and a personality?
Many of Kyra’s short-stop visits to dingy eateries and cluttered offices to ask for work are lit and framed in a way that recalls the striking urban loneliness of the paintings of Edward Hopper. And Philip Miller’s sparingly used, semi-experimental score screeches with agony and despair but in a way that feels more Williamsburg hipster than primal. Seen the continued emphasis on these technical elements, a second question emerges: Is it possible for a viewer to be touched by a character’s predicament and despair when every element of their life is so strikingly arranged? Because Pfeiffer disappears into her role and plays it small, and because Dosunmu’s modus operandi privileges visuals and the unspoken over dialogue and facile melodrama, the film sort of gets away with it, if just barely.
By Boyd van Hoeij | THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Sundance Report: Gloomy ‘Where Is Kyra?’ Marks Michelle Pfeiffer’s Latest Big Screen Comeback
Once a prominent fixture on movie screens, Michelle Pfeiffer sightings have become increasingly rare in recent years. It’s not that the three time Oscar-nominated actress — whose string of ‘80s and ‘90s hits include Married to the Mob, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Batman Returns and Dangerous Minds — has stopped performing; it’s more that she tends to work in batches, appearing in several films in a compressed time frame and then taking a prolonged break. The last time we were treated to multiple Pfeiffer features was 2012-2013, with back-to-back appearances in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, Alex Kurtzman’s People Like Us and Luc Besson’s The Family.
Now, after a four-year break, 2017 is shaping up to be a four-film Pfeiffersance, one that kicks off with her Sundance debut, Where is Kyra?, a psychological drama directed by festival veteran Andrew Dosunmu, whose previous features, 2011’s Restless City and 2013’s Mother of George, both premiered in Park City. Her big year continues in May with The Wizard of Lies, HBO’s dramatization of the infamous Bernie Madoff case, with Pfeiffer playing Madoff’s wife Ruth opposite Robert De Niro. She’s also a part of two end-of-year Oscar hopefuls, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express and Darren Aronofsky’s mysterious new film Mother, also starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.
Taken as a whole, it’s a diverse slate of movies that should highlight Pfeiffer’s rich range as a performer — and make us miss her all over again if she opts to take another multi-year break when 2018 rolls around. She’s certainly the driving force of Kyra, a stridently glum movie where the oppressive style frequently threatens to overwhelm her subtly shaded work. Pfeiffer plays the title character, a middle-aged woman living in in a gloomy Queens apartment two years after losing her job and leaving her marriage. Initially certain that she’ll be able to support herself, a steady stream of rejections even for menial day gigs has dealt a massive blow to her self-confidence. When we meet her, she’s a virtual shut-in whose main job is caring for her infirm mother. And even that small piece of stability is abruptly pulled away when her mom dies, leaving Kyra with mounting debts and no way to begin paying them off.
Well…no way, save one. Due to a filing mistake on the death certificate, Kyra is still receiving her mother’s pension checks, though she can’t cash them on Mom’s behalf. So she dons a grey wig and dark sunglasses and picks up a cane to impersonate her mother in order to collect the meager amounts that just barely cover her expenses. Clearly, this is a plan doomed to fail: Kyra knows it, her new boyfriend — reformed troublemaker Doug (Kiefer Sutherland) — knows it, and the audience knows it, too. So the question that underlines the movie isn’t “Will Kyra be caught,” but rather, “When will Kyra be caught…and how much of her mind will be left intact?”
Working with celebrated cinematographer Bradford Young — who just received an Oscar nomination for his terrific lensing of Arrival — Dosunmu pursues a photographic style that’s heavy on shadows, a visual metaphor for Kyra’s descent into increasingly dark places. It’s an appropriate thematic conceit in theory, but in execution, the film’s severe gloom has the unwelcome impact of obscuring the actors’ faces in key dramatic moments, threatening to blunt the full impact of their performances. If you’re film is primarily a character study, it helps for the audience to be able to see the characters.
Fortunately, Pfeiffer resourcefully communicates Kyra’s increasing desperation through the other tools in her arsenal including voice, posture and gesture. (Sutherland, meanwhile, relies mainly on that gravelly voice that served him so well while running hither and yon on 24 for all those years.) Perhaps it helps that she’s played a variation this role before: in some ways, Kyra feels like who Pfeiffer’s buttoned-up Selina Kyle might have become had she not found a new lease on life by donning that infamous rubber catsuit. Selina went from introvert to extrovert, whereas Kyra withdraws further and further into herself until she can’t find a way out of her self-designed trap. Where is Kyra? itself may be a non-starter, but Pfeiffer begins her comeback year on solid footing.
By Ethan Alter | YAHOO! MOVIES
‘Where Is Kyra?’ With Michelle Pfeiffer And Kiefer Sutherland Is Beautifully Lit But An Inert Slog [Sundance Review]
PARK CITY – Bradford Young earned his first Oscar nomination today for “Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve’s moving Sci-Fi drama. The night before his second collaboration with director Andrew Dosunmu, “Where is Kyra?” debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Both films are examples of his expert cinematography skills as there are few people on this planet that can light a room like it’s the canvas of a 17th century Vermeer. The problem with Dosunmu’s follow up to the more compelling “Mother of George” is that there is so little story and what story there is moves at such a snail’s pace all you have to look at are Young’s impressive compositions and wait. And then wait some more.
The plot is quite simple. Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a middle-aged, divorced woman who has moved to New York to take care of her ailing mother (Suzanne Shepherd). After she passes sooner than expected, Kyra discovers that there’s been a mistake with the death certificate that will hinder her getting some sort of income (likely her mother’s life insurance). As she waits the four to six weeks for the certificate to be fixed she becomes increasingly stressed looking for work. She has her own mountain of bills to pay (even Young can make Pfeiffer calculating receipts on a comforter look heavenly) and the only income she can find is from handing flyers out on the street.
With no friends and only an ex-husband hundreds of miles away the only good thing to happen in Kyra’s life is Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a taxi driver with dreams of some day owning his own cab. Eventually, Kyra becomes so desperate for money she masquerades as her mother in order to cash the pension checks that are still arriving every few weeks. It’s a dangerous game, but she eventually is willing to do anything not to hit rock bottom let alone kicked out of her mother’s apartment,.
These trips to the bank are the few times there is any dramatic tension in the film whatsoever and even that is mitigated by the fact they unfold so slowly. In disguise as an elderly woman Kyra walks as slow as a turtle and Dosunmu let’s the camera hold on her often for minutes at a time. It becomes tiresome to watch her journey in the bank lobby from the entrance to the teller window.
Sadly, Pfeiffer and Sutherland are pretty much wasted here. The former attempts to cast more shading on her character, but Dosunmu and screenwriter Darci Picoult give her little backstory to work with. So much so that the pacing often gives you enough time to actually ponder Kyra’s past in a way that distracts from the proceedings on screen (Does she really have no one else that can help her? Why doesn’t she apply for jobs online at the library? Or take what she has and move to a different state? Has she tried any employment services in NYC? Seriously, you have time to wonder about every possible option). Sutherland, who Young somehow makes look 10 years younger than he is, spends most of his time trying to make Kyra feel better about her situation even if his character doesn’t have the real financial means to do so.
By the end of the movie you are struck by a striking image Young has conceived that flashes at you hypnotically. It’s so beautiful you just want to put it loop and hang it on your wall. There are a number of moments like that in “Kyra.” It’s unfortunate they do not coalesce into a cohesive and compelling piece of cinema. [C-]
By Gregory Ellwood | THE PLAYLIST
Where is Kyra?
The phrase “bleak as f*ck” comes to mind where Andrew Dosunmu and Darci Picoult’s Mother of George follow-up, Where is Kyra?, is concerned. Centered on the near hopeless plight of a middle-aged woman, Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer), attempting to eke out an existence in an unforgiving Brooklyn, New York. When we meet Kyra, she’s lost everything (i.e., her job, her marriage) except her elderly mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). Her mother, however, has a terminal illness: old age. Kyra treats her mother with care, compassion, and tenderness, qualities consistently missing from her encounters in the real world with the exception of Doug (Keifer Sutherland), a middle-aged man Kyra meets at a local bar. While they strike up a romance, it’s clearly based on mutual need, convenience, and proximity. When Ruth passes away quietly in her sleep, she doesn’t just leave Kyra bereft, she leaves her jobless daughter without a means of income. Kyra’s repeated, failed attempts to find a job, any job, including minimum wage jobs, leave her in increasingly desperate straights. That desperation leads her to make a decision that helps her cover her immediate expenses, but which, if discovered, would most likely lead to imprisonment. Picoult’s short-on-subtlety, long-on-empathy screenplay, short on subtlety, isn’t just a character study of a lone, lonely women, but meant as a stand-in of middle-aged women in general, especially single women without the family or safety net necessary to ride out financial crises. Long one of our most undervalued, underused actresses, Pfeiffer delivers a typically nuanced performance, but Dosunmu rarely allows the audience to fully see Pfeiffer, purposely hiding Pfeiffer’s face in shadow or half-shadow (there’s a metaphor in here, somewhere). Working with cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival, Selma, A Violent Year), Dosunmu relies exclusively on natural, interior lighting and a murky, gray-brown palette, often keeping his characters in deep shadows or silhouette, giving Where is Kyra? a horror film vibe, a vibe confirmed by Philip Miller’s discordant, dissonant score that plays whenever Dosunmu flashes back or forward to an old, lonely woman leaning heavily on her cane to navigate city streets. Between the repeated, resonant image and Miller’s score, we’re immersed, however briefly, in the personal, individualized horror of her experience.
By Mel Valentin | NEXT PROJECTION
Identification of a Woman: Dosunmu’s Exacting Arthouse Drama of Suffocation and Alienation
Nigerian born director Andrew Dosunmu branches out with an unexpectedly somber portrait of Brooklyn for his funereal third feature, Where is Kyra? (previously known as Beat-Up Little Seagull when the project was in production). Reuniting with Darci Picoult, the scribe of his underrated 2013 sophomore film Mother of George, the title also marks the onscreen return of actress Michelle Pfeiffer following a four year hiatus (last seen in Luc Besson’s The Family) who stars as a woman struggling to put her life back together despite some considerable economical and personal setbacks.
Single and living alone with her ailing mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), the quiet and somewhat disconsolate Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been attempting in vain to find employment throughout various offices and restaurants in Brooklyn. When Ruth suddenly dies, Kyra is unable to stave off her mounting debt, and resorts to finding a creative solution by cashing her mother’s pension checks. A chance encounter with the lonely and divorced Doug (Kiefer Sutherland) allows Kyra a sympathetic outlet, but her inability to be honest with him greatly complicates their developing attraction to one another. Eventually, Kyra’s significant problems spiral out of control.
Urban decay and industrial alienation never looked as intoxicatingly beautiful as it does here, courtesy of Dosunmu’s reunion with DP Bradford Young (the title premieres the same week Young received a well-deserved Oscar nod for his work on Villeneuve’s Arrival). There are several tightly framed close-ups on Pfeiffer, as arrestingly beautiful as ever, although any real illuminating sequences are few and far between. This is a down-and-out portrait of Brooklyn, the brown-ish gray facades mirrored by equally gloomy, overcast skies. The screeching sound of metal as trains fly by on ceaselessly pelted tracks squeal with irksome plaintiveness on the soundtrack, which also consists of a jarring, discordant cacophony of mixed industrial noises from Philip Miller’s score, usually used to underline sequences where Kyra dons a particularly troubling masquerade. In fact, you only really get to see the faces of Pfeiffer and Sutherland in plain sight at the same time only once, by the mellow yellow light of a bedroom lamp during a moment when these downtrodden creatures of the dark are forced to surface into the grim, bitter reality of Kyra’s looming predicament.
The audience is as purposefully alienated from Kyra as she is from herself. So besotted by issues, she cannot even properly mourn for her mother (a brief but aching performance from character actress Suzanne Shepherd, perhaps best known as Big Ethel in John Water’s last film, A Dirty Shame, 2003) or even navigate the murky circumstances which robbed her of a future. Day drinking at the bar, which is where she meets Sutherland’s lonely caretaker, suggests issues with drug and alcohol addiction, in turn explaining why she roams the neon-lit hovels of Brooklyn for minimum wage positions—occupations which only add to the hopelessness of her debt.
Stylistically, this is the sort of visualization of alienation and the dissolution of identity one would attribute to the major works of Antonioni, and Pfeiffer’s Kyra plays like a relation to the Monica Vitti character of Red Desert (1964). Young’s impressive frames (he has twice won the cinematography award at Sundance, previously for his work on Mother of George, which was a tie with his own work on David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) also recalls the same sort of visualization of invisibility as seen in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind (2014), a portrait of a homeless man, never quite a visible fixture in his own landscape.
Pfeiffer and Sutherland approach their roles realistically and with impressive subtlety. There’s no showboating to be found in Where is Kyra?, about two lonely people treading water furiously but close to drowning. The economic woes of Kyra additionally provide the film with elements of noir—we ask, not only where is Kyra, but how long has she been gone? It seems she’s been swinging from lifeline to lifeline well before we even meet her in the opening frames as she forlornly prepares a bath for her decrepit mother.
If one gets a sense of being consumed by the film’s crushing tone and impeccable sense of ambience, Dosunmu and Picoult deliver a dynamite third act climax. A resting shot on Pfeiffer’s face (a bookend reflection of an earlier shot in a mirror, with different lighting and a different expression) is profoundly moving, and is concomitantly comparable to a similar use of the performer’s face in Stephen Frears’ 2009 Cheri, a close-up of a woman simultaneously existing (and perhaps with relief) fading.
Reviewed on January 24th at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival – Premieres Program. 98 Min.
By Nicholas Bell | IONCINEMA.COM
Brooding ‘Where is Kyra?’ revels in dimly-lit misery
“WHERE IS KYRA?” — 2 stars — Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland; not rated, probable R for profanity, sexual content and nudity; Sundance Film Festival
There are people who prefer happy endings and people who enjoy the mixed emotions of a bittersweet ending. Neither group will particularly enjoy “Where is Kyra?,” a brooding film from director Andrew Dosunmu that seems to revel in its misery.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Kyra, a middle-aged woman in Brooklyn who lives with her elderly mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). Kyra has been out of work for some time, in spite of her continued efforts to apply for menial jobs around the city. When her mother passes away, Kyra takes one of her mother’s last Social Security checks to the bank and learns that it can only be cashed by the recipient.
Bit by bit, the walls close in. Kyra sells the few items around the apartment with any resale value and keeps missing employment opportunities, aside from a humiliating part-time job passing out flyers on street corners. Eventually she starts dressing up like her mother and hiding her eyes behind large sunglasses so she can cash her mother’s Social Security checks, which are still coming for some reason.
While stopping by a local bar, Kyra meets Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a local cab driver and longtime tenant of her building. Kyra and Doug soon discover that misery loves company and embark on a half-cocked, mostly sexual relationship that leads to even more disastrous results once Doug discovers how Kyra has been paying her bills.
Through elements like dramatic lighting and grinding pacing, Dosunmu has created a mood and tone that are absolutely soul-draining. Every scene seems to take place in the dark — even those shot in the light of day — and interiors are rarely given more than the light of a small lamp to illuminate the shadow-draped actors. Desperate to cheer themselves up, audience members might wonder aloud whether the film’s title, “Where is Kyra?” is referring to the literal challenge of actually seeing the actress in the scene.
Dosunmu matches his dreary and haunting visuals with a bleak, lagging pace that sucks the audience into the same depressive state as his protagonists. It feels like an effective setup for a powerful third-act resolution but, without revealing too much, audiences shouldn’t get their hopes up. Dosunmu’s message in “Where is Kyra?” seems to be that life is miserable … and then it gets worse.
The lone exception to the film’s vibe is a curious tone-breaking element of punctuating several intermittent scenes with jarring industrial soundtrack clangs, which feel more appropriate for an indie horror film, before returning to the film’s usual muted atmosphere.
“Where is Kyra?” ultimately represents one of the biggest challenges in film criticism: Can you fault a film that is exactly what it wants to be? Dosunmu’s film is dramatically shot and powerfully acted, but it is difficult to endure. This may be exactly what he is going for, but the payoff just isn’t there. One thing the film has going for it are the performances of its veteran leads. Pfeiffer and Sutherland are marvelously effective in their roles. The problem is that they are dramatically effective at a hugely depressing thing.
“Where is Kyra?” is not rated, but would receive a probable R rating for profanity, sexual content and nudity; running time: 98 minutes.
By Joshua Terry | Deseret News Family