Rave Reviews of “Where is Kyra?”
About ‘Where is Kyra?’
Michelle Pfeiffer is typically excellent as Kyra; imbuing her with a tragic vulnerability and a protective layer that flags a backstory of sadness and disappointment. There is a slight thaw when she meets local caretaker Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), but can they really overcome their circumstances or will their happiness be short-lived? Skillful direction and impressively nuanced performances from its two leads are perfectly complemented by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival), whose rich, sombre tones cast complex shadows and a tragic beauty to every scene.
‘Where Is Kyra?’: Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliant performance holds the answer
Kyra Johnson, middle-aged, divorced and unemployed, looks after her elderly mother in their small New York apartment. Mom isn’t long for this world, and in time you might start to suspect something similar about Kyra. She hasn’t had a job since she was laid off two years ago, though not for lack of trying. She’s beautiful — to put it another way, she’s played by Michelle Pfeiffer — but her beauty, much like her pain, is something the world has long ceased to notice, much less concern itself with.
That more or less explains who Kyra is. As for “Where is Kyra?,” the title of Andrew Dosunmu’s grave, searing and determinedly low-wattage new drama, the question is apparently meant to be taken quite literally. Much of the movie, shot by the brilliant cinematographer Bradford Young, unfolds in rooms and offices cloaked in thick, impenetrable shadows, with Kyra’s forlorn silhouette often lurking at the margins of the frame. You might have to go back to the cinematographer Gordon Willis’ work on “The Godfather: Part II” to see darkness employed to such powerfully cavernous effect.
Its visual extremity aside, “Where Is Kyra?,” written by Darci Picoult, might at first seem to be a straightforward if unremittingly bleak drama of economic anxiety. Once her mother (Suzanne Shepherd) is gone, relieving her of one burden but immediately imposing another, Kyra begins her sad, steady descent into desperation and petty criminality, a journey set to the pulse of a psychological thriller and punctuated by the nerve-shredding eruptions of Philip Miller’s score.
Offering Kyra some respite from her woes is a lover, Doug (an excellent Kiefer Sutherland), who picks her up at a bar, not long after she learns her credit card has been rejected. Doug turns out to be only slightly better off, with his own hard-knock history to boot. He tries to help and keep her out of trouble, not realizing until too late that he’s playing the chump in a modern-day noir, which makes Kyra the most dangerous kind of femme fatale — the unwitting kind.
Dosunmu, a Nigerian-born director with a background in photography, isn’t a fatalist at heart, though like many other filmmakers he seems enthralled by the spectacle of a woman on the verge. His previous picture, “Mother of George” (2013), was a vibrant Brooklyn-set melodrama about a Nigerian immigrant striving to uphold her cultural traditions and adapt to the pressures of a new marriage. In Young’s hands (which have since gone on to do similarly stunning work in “Arrival” and “Selma”), the movie became a ravishing interplay of hues and textures, an exquisitely bejeweled shadow play.
In “Where Is Kyra?” those shadows have deepened and lengthened. With the occasional exception of flashing red lights or the striking yellow coat Kyra likes to wear, nearly all bright colors have been carefully drained from the frame. But if Young’s work here is another master class in painterly under-lighting, then Pfeiffer’s brilliantly self-effacing performance feels like something sculptural by comparison. Remarkably, she doesn’t compete with the movie’s rigorous visual scheme; she completes it. Her powers of expression, far from being obscured by all this darkness, are instead enriched and heightened by it.
I am surely not the only moviegoer who, over the years, has been moved to ask, “Where is Michelle Pfeiffer?” — a question that was recently and gratifyingly answered by her expert supporting performances in “mother!” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” Those willing to seek out Dosunmu’s movie will find an even more satisfying if undeniably challenging answer.
There are some who might quibble with the decision to cast a movie star as a woman of extremely limited means — a judgment that effectively reduces good acting to a purity test, rather than a feat of imaginative empathy. Which is not to say that Pfeiffer’s performance is entirely devoid of subtext. In the context of an industry not known for its kindness to women over 35, there is something strangely right about one of our most criminally underemployed actors taking on the role of a woman who time forgot.
Pfeiffer disappears into Kyra, and Kyra disappears into the movie. Dosunmu delights in playing hide-and-seek with his protagonist, disguising her in more ways than one; he reminds us that crushing poverty has a way of obliterating one’s entire identity.
But then, just when we think Kyra might slip away for good, the camera suddenly moves in for a tightly framed, perfectly chiseled close-up, revealing her in all her unadorned anguish. This woman may be lost to the world, but in Dosunmu’s quietly shattering vision, she is also unexpectedly, triumphantly found.
By Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
‘Where Is Kyra?’ Review: Michelle Pfeiffer Gives the Performance of Her Career
Actor turns this story of a woman desperately trying to avoid losing everything into something humanistic and heartbreaking
3.5 Stars out of 4
Do you remember the first time Michelle Pfeiffer showed up on your radar? Was it courtesy of one of her gangster molls, available in both coke-snorting (Scarface) and gum-snapping (Married to the Mob) varieties? Or was it via her costume dramas, playing passive heartbreakers (The Age of Innocence) and the aggressively heartbroken (Dangerous Liaisons)? Taking zero amounts of shit in Dangerous Minds? Slinking across a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys? Licking faces in Batman Returns, the movie that inspired a thousand Halloween costumes and prepubescent fetishists? Pfeiffer has played everything from ice queens to hash-slingers, but she still tends to get short shrift in terms of her talent; even post-“comeback” projects, from the woebegone Murder on the Orient Express remake to the WTF biblical parable mother!, come close to reducing her to a “pretty and mysterious” cipher. We talk about how the camera loves her, but not her chops. We think of her first and foremost as a movie star. We sometimes forget she’s an actor.
In a perfect world, Where is Kyra? would permanently alter this conversation. Had Pfeiffer made this 20 years ago, you could see it being dismissed sight unseen by cynics as Beautiful Oscar Nominee Goes Slumming. Watching this extraordinary, rigorous, cryptic character study now, it simply registers as arguably the strongest thing she’s ever done and inarguably one of the best movies of the year. That’s not just because Pfeiffer gives an incredible performance as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown as she plummets toward the poverty line; there are a number of factors that contribute to filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu’s drama burrowing under your skin in the best possible way. But watching the way she lets you ride shotgun while this character scrambles for stability, you’ll find that’s impossible to understate what Pfeiffer brings to this story. She’s the light in the darkness, sometimes literally. She’s the human behind the headline.
When we meet Kyra, she’s two years out of a job and taking care of her sick, elderly mother (Suzanne Shepherd). Their Brooklyn apartment isn’t shabby, but it’s edging toward threadbare. She can’t afford a new skirt for an interview; she can’t seem to catch a break. When Mom passes away, Kyra sells her furniture and starts hitting up any place with a Now-Hiring sign in the window. A surprisingly sweet barfly (Kiefer Sutherland) helps out a bit, but he’s struggling to make ends meet as well, and she’s not after a handout. Every so often, the movie cuts to an old woman shuffling down the street, through parking lots, into a bank. At first, you assume it’s a flashback to Kyra’s mom. But the more these scenes keep popping up, the more you start to wonder what, exactly, is going on here ….
Dosunmu takes his time in confirming your suspicions, and when he does, Where is Kyra? starts to double as a dread-inducing thriller: How long before our heroine runs out of options altogether and has to answer for some of the things she’s doing to stay afloat? As with his previous film, the equally stunning diaspora-drama Mother of George (2013), this Nigeria-born director knows how to capture everyday people in flux – between homes, between identities, between cultures and paychecks. Armed with a script co-credited to Darci Picoult, he manages to slowly detail what happens to a person running out of money and time without turning the entire affair into poverty porn. He’s equally at good at going gritty or graceful, and his work as a photographer has honed his eye for negative space; you can feel how his framing keeps penning Kyra in, backing her into a corner, closing her in as the world around her constricts with every dollar spent.
He’s helped immensely by Bradford Young, who’s established himself as one of the most gifted cinematographers working today – just glance at virtually any frame of Arrival, Selma or A Most Violent Year, to name only three outstanding examples. But with this film, he’s determined to go full Gordon Willis and out-dark the New Hollywood “Prince of Darkness.” Every shadow becomes an abyss; some shots seem to be physically sucking light into the image like a black hole. There are more breathtaking silhouettes per capita in Where Is Kyra? than is probably legal or healthy – one, in which the cherry from Pfeiffer’s cigarette glows out of the gloom, is hall-of-fame–worthy. Yet it never feels as if gorgeousness for gorgeousness’ sake is the goal here. Even when the visuals hover on the border between stylized and overstylized, they still complement the character’s gradual descent into increasingly desperate measures rather than eclipse it. The Seventies got the man who shot The Godfather, Klute, etc., and we get Young – and we’re equally as blessed.
Still, this is Pfeiffer’s show. She never makes Kyra seem like a caricature, a class-conscious symbol of social issues or a complete mess in a dress. She makes her feel like that frazzled person you saw the other day running for the bus stop, or at the end of the bar scraping through her purse, or frantically trying to keep her shit together while others pretend not to notice. She gives you panic, and sadness, and joy – that smile when she first lets Sutherland in to her sphere – and eventually, the sense that anybody is capable of crossing a line when their dignity risks disintegrating. Every one of Pfeiffer’s close-ups, and there are many, tell Kyra’s story. It’s a performance of such nuance and vulnerability, so quietly catastrophic in communicating this woman’s accumulation of loss. Looking back at some of her work, you wonder if this brainy actor was waiting out her screen-bombshell status – that if she could have, she’d have gone straight from ingenue to Gena Rowlands. This movie proves she’s officially entered that phase. You feel like she’s just started a new act.
By David Fear | Rolling Stone
WHERE IS KYRA?
3.5 Stars out of 4
Michelle Pfeiffer has made a career out of playing devastating beauties—women who bewitch and beguile but ultimately seem unattainable. From early, showy roles in movies like “Grease 2” (which I love with zero irony) and “Scarface” through her more serious, Oscar-nominated work including “Dangerous Liaisons” and “The Fabulous Baker Boys” to her scene-stealing supporting performance in last year’s “mother!” Pfeiffer’s stunning looks and magnetic screen presence often have defined whatever character she’s played.
But a serious actress who shouldn’t be underestimated has long lurked beneath those piercing cheekbones and blue eyes. “Where Is Kyra?” finally allows her to explore the darker, unvarnished side of her talent and gives her the opportunity to do perhaps the best work of her lengthy, eclectic career.
The irony is that Pfeiffer not only has to disappear into the role, she nearly disappears, period, within the film’s working-class Brooklyn setting. Director and co-writer Andrew Dosunmu once again explores what life is like for myriad New Yorkers struggling to get by on a daily basis, as he did in 2013’s searing “Mother of George.” Here, Pfeiffer’s Kyra is our conduit to a world of anxiety and destitution within a seemingly exciting, glamorous city. And she’s absolutely heartbreaking with just the slightest register of sadness in a gesture or facial expression.
Dosunmu and his “Mother of George” collaborator, co-writer Darci Picoult, quietly introduce us to Kyra and her elderly mother (Suzanne Shepherd) as they go about their nighttime routine in the dark, cramped apartment they share. In time, we’ll learn that Kyra is recently divorced and unemployed, and she has moved back in with her ailing mom to help her with daily activities like bathing and errands. Finding even a part-time filing job is tough, but Kyra dyes her roots and puts on her game face, hitting the pavement each day in pursuit of elusive menial labor.
Working once again with the hugely talented cinematographer Bradford Young, Dosunmu frames them from afar—down a dark hallway or through a crack in the bathroom door. We’re spying on them, and we don’t want to make a sound for fear of disturbing the intimacy of their bubble, their bond. Young has such a beautiful, evocative touch, using low light and painterly shadows to establish a mood and create a sense of isolation. That’s been true in the wide variety of films he’s shot, from “Pariah” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” to “A Most Violent Year” and his Oscar-nominated work on “Arrival.” Here, the effect seems to obscure Kyra’s existence even further—to make her world seem oppressively, inescapably small.
But Kyra’s situation grows even direr when her mother dies. The moment is powerful in its silence and stillness. Dosunmu pushes into the living room from the hallway ever so steadily as Kyra walks in and realizes her mother has stopped breathing in her recliner. She carefully reaches over and turns off the oxygen tank. She doesn’t know whether to sit or stand. She’s stunned, understandably—all of which Pfeiffer conveys in the space of a single shot.
The awkward small talk Kyra makes to the few people who attend the funeral indicates just how little of a life she’s had outside of her mother and these walls. Now, she has to figure out how to hold onto the apartment without any income.
But just when you suspect “Where is Kyra?” is going to be too bleak in a one-note, stoic way, Kyra lets it all out once she gets back home, and the overwhelming sense of being totally alone pours out of her. Then, finally, comes the title in all caps, giant white letters on a black screen, yanking you out of that melancholy and signaling a change.
“Where Is Kyra?” becomes a more actively stressful movie as Kyra resorts to increasingly dangerous schemes to stay afloat. You know she’s in bad shape when you can hear the sound of her scraping coins out of the bottom of her purse to afford a drink at the local dive bar. But things gets worse, even as they seem to get vaguely better with the introduction of Kiefer Sutherland’s Doug, who’s sitting a couple of stools down at the bar and also happens to be a neighbor in her mom’s building.
Doug gives her rare chance to forge a connection with someone, and while she’s initially resistant, it’s obvious she needs the human contact. Soon they’re doing shots, and you can imagine where it goes from there—and yet their relationship remains a mystery, even as it evolves. It’s unclear whether Kyra truly cares for Doug—who is decent and kind and also struggling economically, although not as drastically as she is—or she just craves the company.
There’s a great shot of the two of them leaning against the wall at a building-wide gathering, drinking beers together. Dosunmu places them slightly off-center in the frame and shoots them at a distance, amid wood paneling and sparse white lights. In holding that shot for a while, he makes you want to lean in to see and hear them as they fumble through half-hearted attempts at flirting.
Eventually, Doug ends up being dragged into her devious plan to survive. You sort of can’t blame her, though; “Where Is Kyra?” depicts in spare but vivid ways her escalating desperation, and the dread of her creeping, abject poverty. She can see her breath when she climbs into bed at night because she can’t afford to turn on the heat. (At least she still has a bed, though; she’s had to sell much of her mother’s furniture.)
In the film’s most deeply uncomfortable scene, Kyra goes back to her ex-husband, begging for money. The camera holds on her face for the entire conversation, registering every flinch and sigh as she shuts her eyes and pushes out the words. It’s pure survival instinct, and Pfeiffer portrays it chillingly. Kyra has to be various versions of herself depending on whom she’s with and what she needs from them—but the act becomes more difficult the deeper she gets in over her head.
The one element of “Where Is Kyra?” that isn’t the slightest bit subtle is its score. Especially in moments of panic or crisis, it cranks up with a noisy, dissonant distortion. It seems intentionally off-putting—like the sound of a metal door that’s rusty and stuck and needs to be oiled—signifying perhaps that Kyra is still here, and she’s not going quietly.
By Christy Lemire | Roger Ebert
‘Where is Kyra?’ is a remarkable showcase for the great Michelle Pfeiffer
“Where Is Kyra?” is a small story and a terribly sad one. Michelle Pfeiffer will break your heart in every scene. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“Where is Kyra?” answers the question posed in its title in two ways: She’s there, right in front of us, and she’s gone. Kyra, played with wrenching honesty by the great Michelle Pfeiffer, is one of those invisible people: a middle-aged, single woman in New York City, desperate to find a job. Initially, she lives with her elderly mother in one of those cramped apartments that time seems to have forgotten, but early on in the film her mother dies, leaving Kyra wondering how to pay the rent, keep the heat on, get by. We see Kyra trudging through her neighborhood, asking about jobs (it seems she was once a bookkeeper, though details of her past are few) and filling out applications, but no one seems to take notice of her; it’s as if she wasn’t there.
Directed by Andrew Dosunmu (“Mother of George”), “Where is Kyra?” unfolds on gray-shadowed sidewalks and dark, brownish rooms — the better to save on electricity, and to illustrate the heroine’s plight. Color is rare; a sudden ambulance flashing red in the night is shocking. The only other character we meet with any depth is Kyra’s neighbor Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), who’s likewise a sweet-natured lost soul. They fall into bed, and into something resembling a relationship, but it’s as if he’s a sapling that she’s clinging to in a storm; better than nothing, but not real shelter.
Slowly, we begin to learn a little more about Kyra’s past, but not much; Pfeiffer’s silences, and the way her mouth so often forms a line of misery, tell the story we don’t hear. The soundtrack sounds like the scraping of something bare; the soft light makes us strain to see her face. And a recurring image from the film’s early scenes — a ghost, we wonder, of Kyra’s future? — suddenly comes into focus, sending the plot down a dark road from which you doubt it can return.
“Where is Kyra?” is a small story — there’s much about its main character that we’ll never know — and a terribly sad one. But it’s a remarkable showcase for Pfeiffer, who’ll break your heart in every scene. Watch her painfully straight posture at her mother’s funeral; hear her barely-holding-it-together brittleness in the words “It’s hard out there”; and marvel at the final shot of Pfeiffer’s face through a window, as still as a statue. You can barely see her; she’s already gone.
By Moira Macdonald | Seattle Times arts critic
Darkness Encroaches in Michelle Pfeiffer’s Where Is Kyra?
here was a time, not long ago, when the idea of making Michelle Pfeiffer invisible would have seemed an impossible task for even the most talented filmmaker. But invisibility, and its more active counterpart, disappearance, are constant nemeses to the great actress in her almost unbearably grim new drama, Where Is Kyra?
Even the title lets you know about the peril she’s in.
Eking out a meager existence in the deep outer-borough of New York most of us see only from the windows of passing trains or in the title sequences of films, Kyra spends her days taking care of her very old mother, helping her into the tub, laboriously walking with her to the bank to cash her pension checks, fetching her water, whiskey, and oxygen. The apartment they share isn’t tiny, but it’s musty, dimly lit, and, except for when the mother lapses into a coughing fit, practically silent.
The action, of which there is little, is filmed from a distance and held in little sub-frames of lamplight and deep dusk, as if darkness is the default mode of existence, encroaching at all times. And it is, a darkness—courtesy of master cinematographer Bradford Young—built of layers upon layers of dread, like when things are as bad as they can possibly be, and then get worse.
Kyra’s life proceeds from the grimness of being your “failing” mother’s only caretaker to dressing up in her clothes and impersonating her agonized gait because it’s the only way to cash her pension checks after she dies. Every day she looks for work, but there are no jobs—or they’ve just been filled. She winds up wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with mocking “$$$$,” handing flyers to people who refuse to see her.
Movie logic tells us Kyra is going to meet a savior, or find a bag of money, or learn it’s really all a horrible dream, but Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu and screenwriter Darci Picoult operate within a different logic. They’re pressed up against the glass of America in 2018, and riveted by the darkness that surrounds people without resources.
Kyra’s phone gets turned off. She gets an eviction notice. And then the cops come knocking. The only respite in her life comes in the unlikely form of Kiefer Sutherland, a downstairs neighbor half a rung up from her on account of his part-time job in a nursing home.
They meet in a bar (she has to pay for her rum and Coke with what appear to be hundreds of nickels), and turn to each other for physical solace that brings no lasting comfort, and indeed, only magnifies the damage ahead.
Where Is Kyra? is an unorthodox comeback vehicle for Pfeiffer—the film is truly a total bummer, the rare example of cinema that is both beautifully made and 100 percent joyless. But it remains noteworthy, and maybe even important to see as an unflinching statement about the exponential indignities of being anything other than rich in America.
Even movies can’t pretend there’s anything left to be optimistic about.
By Sean Nelson | The Stranger
‘Where is Kyra?’: Michelle Pfeiffer returns in strong character role
The icon of 1980s and ’90s films excels as a middle-age woman sinking into poverty.
If you look at her filmography, Michelle Pfeiffer has been occasionally working in the last 15 years. So why does it seem like she’s been away?
Maybe because nothing could match Pfeiffer’s in-demand decades of the 1980s and ‘90s. From “Scarface” in 1983 to, say, “What Lies Beneath” in 2000, she enjoyed a busy run of high-profile lead roles, including some classics (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Age of Innocence,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys”). She even played Catwoman.
In recent years, Pfeiffer’s been a furtive presence. The last few months have seen a modest comeback, with crisp supporting turns in “Murder on the Orient Express” and “mother!”
Last week she popped up in news stories because the moderator of a “Scarface” tribute panel asked her how much she weighed when she made the film — the audience, understandably, booed. (He didn’t ask Al Pacino the same question.) Welcome back to the limelight, I suppose.
In “Where Is Kyra?,” Pfeiffer does nicely with her biggest role in years, albeit in a very small-scaled movie. She plays the title part, a divorced, out-of-work woman who must face brittle realities when her mother (Suzanne Shepherd), whom she’s been caretaking, suddenly dies.
At first, Kyra’s rounds appear ordinary. She deals with her mother’s Brooklyn apartment and scrambles to find work.
A chance meeting with another tenant (Kiefer Sutherland, in sympathetic form) leads to a tentative relationship. But Kyra’s got a secret.
Director Andrew Dosunmu’s style, drenched in dark, moody compositions, suggests something heavy is going on. He and gifted cinematographer Bradford Young (of the atmosphere-heavy “Arrival”) make every shot look like a burnished painting. It’s a fitting approach for a character who becomes increasingly weighed down by circumstances.
“Where Is Kyra?” isn’t so much about Kyra’s fling with criminal behavior as it is about a world in which a decent person can fall from safety to destitution in just a few weeks’ time. Kyra’s behavior stems from her panic about scraping together enough money to get through the week — not because she’s bad, but because things have gone badly.
The film doesn’t always click, but Pfeiffer is up to the challenge of animating this outcast — at various times we see Kyra’s face in unsparing close-up, and Pfeiffer lets the exhaustion and desperation show through. This performance bodes well for an entirely new phase of a former superstar’s career.
‘Where Is Kyra?’ (3 stars)
Michelle Pfeiffer does a strong starring turn as a divorced woman whose life goes into a tailspin after her mother dies. The movie is about how short a distance lies between getting by and being destitute, and Pfeiffer delivers an unsparing character study. With Kiefer Sutherland.
By Robert Horton | Herald Net
MOVIE REVIEW: WHERE IS KYRA
In the best films and the best art, form does not follow function, nor vice-versa. Instead, they work in tandem, each supporting a critical synthesis in every moment, like the double-helix of DNA. This doesn’t mean that films that don’t accomplish this, or don’t even aspire to, can’t be good, even great. But the best films both reach for and achieve that critical synthesis, often leaving permanent gifts to the craft and language of cinema along the way. Even films that have the superficial indicia of modesty, compactness, or intimacy can and do achieve this. It’s not about bigness; it’s about purpose, precision, and every element working support of every other.
The problem with Where is Kyra is that it doesn’t do this, even though it thinks it does. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it does do this, but only in a way that has other consequences the film either can’t negotiate, didn’t realize it had to, or chose not to. If the latter two, this is a mistake; these consequences prevent Where is Kyra, a film that does so much right with so many strong elements, from achieving what it could have achieved. Where is Kyra has the potential for greatness in its foundations, but along the path towards realization, something critical was lost.
Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a woman who is struggling. The precise nature of her struggle, and how she got to the point we found her at the beginning of the film, are only slowly doled out to us. But the underlying causes of her struggle – the social invisibility of older, single women; the cost, the toll, the degradation of poverty; our society’s lack of any true safety net – are plain from the film’s first moments. Indeed, they are Where is Kyra’s clear subjects, and they are shown without a hint of romanticism, exploitation, or easy sympathy.
What director Andrew Dosunmu and his DP Bradford Young accomplish that is both very intelligent, but also its downfall, is to try to literalize its themes through its craft. Kyra’s social and economic marginalization is expressed by literally marginalizing her in the frame, showing her enveloped by spaces, or only obliquely. Kyra’s life, and her perspective, are muddled and being consumed by darkness; therefore, so is the cinematography. But these choices, along with others, distance us from Kyra, her story and her circumstances, creating gulf between us and the narrative in a way that undercuts the natural tendency of film towards empathy. This is not an impossible task by any measure – Keane, Siddharth, and most recently The Florida Project are all films that find strategies to thread the challenges in depicting socially and economically marginalized people and achieve something special. Where is Kyra is keenly aware of those same challenges, and it avoids almost every pitfall. But it never ascends, either.
In the end, Where is Kyra is far from a bad film – in fact, in many important ways, it’s quite a good one – but instead it’s something almost worse: a disappointing one. Anchored around terrific performances from Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland, Where is Kyra deserves to be applauded for everything it does right, which is more than most films. But the gap between what it does and what it could have done is almost as large, and looms even larger. Where is Kyra is a good film begging to be great; if only it could have been.
By Max Bentovim | Brightest Young Things
‘Where Is Kyra?’ Film Review: Michelle Pfeiffer Shines in Dark Indie Drama
In 1997, Amos Kollek made a movie called “Sue,” a tiny arthouse drama that surely still haunts those who were lucky enough to catch it. The unforgettable Anna Thomson played the titular lost soul, a fragile beauty who falls into a chasm of poverty.
There’s a good chance contemporary audiences will have the same response to Andrew Dosunmu’s “Where is Kyra?” — another deceptively modest indie in which an incandescent actress embodies one woman’s increasingly muted life.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Kyra, in a bit of unexpected casting that adds a potent cruelty to an already heartbreaking story. There is no hiding Pfeiffer’s beauty, but it feels almost mocking here, like a promise held just out of reach.
The film opens with a touching delicacy, but there are hints of inevitable loss. Kyra moved to Brooklyn to care for her aging mother (Suzanne Shepherd, “The Sopranos”), which has become an all-encompassing responsibility. And when it ends, she finds herself without any resources at all.
Looking for work becomes her work; Kyra gets up and dressed every day despite increasing evidence that her efforts will lead to nothing. Since she’s down to her last savings, she can’t afford a single mistake. But of course we all make errors constantly, tiny ones that can be fixed with just a little time, or care, or cash. These are luxuries Kyra doesn’t have.
She does find a new boyfriend in Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), who holds the only promise in her dim life. He’s sweet and thoughtful, and has recently made his own way out of a personal crisis. He’s got the perspective she needs, but calm clarity is just another extravagance for those in the midst of calamity.
Despite the high-wattage leads, Dosunmu and screenwriter Darci Picoult (who also made the excellent “Mother of George” together) have fashioned a determinedly miniscule drama. Doug is a little too movie-perfect, but Sutherland provides a crucial respite from so much misery. And Pfeiffer is here not as a luminous star but as an accomplished actor, burrowing into the dusty loneliness of her character’s life.
This is such an intimate story that cinematographer Bradford Young (“Arrival”) often shoots Pfeiffer in closeup even when she’s talking to someone else. In fact, there’s so much anxiety suffusing every scene — in Kyra’s taut face, in Young’s spare compositions, in the ominous and overwrought score (by Philip Miller) — we might as well be watching a thriller.
When Kyra goes to the bank, or gets on the bus, or hears her doorbell ring, things that mean almost nothing to most people, there’s always potential for something to go wrong. And her margin of safety is so thin, each decision is made in the moment without concern about long-term consequences.
Doug, a health-care aide, chastises her for smoking, but we know better. Every carefully-crafted scene reminds us that Kyra is deeply unimportant in the world, according to the world. Life goes on whether she exists or not, a fact made achingly clear during a poignant visit to her ex-husband.
With no job, no family, and no backup plan, each dwindling day serves as the only protection she has between herself and an unsparing abyss. That we watch the ticking moments of “Where Is Kyra?” with so much concern is a testament to the filmmakers and cast determined to elevate her unnoticed life.
By The Wrap|
Michelle Pfeiffer as You’ve Never Seen Her Before
The star gives one of her finest performances as a jobless Brooklyn woman in Where Is Kyra?
Spare, grim, and unsentimental, Andrew Dosunmu’s indie drama Where Is Kyra? addresses the plight of anonymous city dwellers who are one step from destitution. Michelle Pfeiffer’s raw, lupine portrayal of Kyra captures the slow, miserable grind of creeping poverty and its debilitating effect on reason.
A divorced woman, perhaps in her late forties, Kyra has been unemployed for two years. She turns up for successive job interviews, but cannot get hired because younger, prettier applicants are available, or because her nerves let her down; sometimes she is too late in applying for different positions. She goes from seeking secretarial work to handing out flyers on the street.
Living with her elderly, infirm mother (Suzanne Shepherd) in the latter’s poky, dingy apartment, Kyra has become dependent for survival on handouts from mom’s pension check. When the old lady dies, Kyra fails to register her death certificate. Desperate for money, she puts on mom’s wig, sunglasses, and clothes. makes regular expeditions to the bank, and signs illegally for the continuing checks. She thus digs a deep hole for herself.
Written by Darci Picoult, who previously scripted Dosunmu’s 2013 fertility drama Mother of George, Where Is Kyra? may be bleak, but it’s not without humor or theatricalism. The spectacle of Kyra-in-disguise convincingly shambling across a mall car park or up to a bank teller is amusing and enlightening, partly because she’s cheating a system that’s left her on a trash heap, partly because anyone who peered closely at this crone would see that she’s a beautiful middle-aged woman. That it takes a long time for anyone to twig Kyra’s deceit testifies to public disregard for people: as society itself is faceless, so it would impose facelessness on individuals.
Kyra is not as lonely as the character in the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Early on she goes to a bar and hooks up with an old acquaintance, Doug (sympathetically played by Kiefer Sutherland). They meet for further drinking and sex and become emotionally dependent on each other without exactly falling in love. Like Kyra, Doug is scraping a living; he works as an airport driver and as a care home helper. Appalled by Kyra’s defrauding the bank, he ends their relationship. When she returns to him with the law on her tail, he must decide whether to stand by or abandon her.
As a Nigerian in Brooklyn, Dosunmu may feel the fear of marginalization more keenly than most. The Brooklyn of the film is not so much hostile as alienating. Cindy Sherman’s photography was a touchstone for him, and Bradford Young’s cinematography captures sunless, blurry, washed-out cityscapes that are mirrored in Kyra’s wanness and the pale yellow coat she wears. The interiors have a Rembrandt-ian darkness. It’s as if Kyra grew out of the borough’s unstable, night-shaded firmament. Whenever Kyra makes a mistake, Philip Miller’s score erupts in a disconcerting clangor.
No matter how many homeless people we see on New York’s streets and subways, it requires a leap of imagination for the rest of us to understand what it would be like to live without a roof and regular food and warmth. Dosunmu’s direction and Pfeiffer’s performance take the viewer to the brink of that horror.
Where Is Kyra? opens on Friday, April 6 in New York.
By Graham Fuller | The Culture Trip
JOSHUA REVIEWS ANDREW DOSUNMU’S WHERE IS KYRA? [THEATRICAL REVIEW]
There are few actors we as a cinephile community have taken for granted more than one Michelle Pfeiffer. Despite being a three time Oscar nominee and one of the most beloved actresses of her era, outside of the occasional supporting, almost cameo-like role in a film like last year’s mother!, Pfeiffer has become a seemingly forgotten about entity. However, after being last seen in 2013’s The Family, Pfeiffer has followed up a rather eventful 2017 with not only a role in a Marvel picture (the upcoming Ant Man and the Wasp) but a performance that is quite possibly the best one she’s given to this point in her career.
Entitled Where Is Kyra?, Pfeiffer plays the titular role, that of a middle aged woman in who, after moving back in with her elderly mother both to tend to her needs but also attempt to get back on her feet following a messy divorce, finds herself on the brink of self destruction. Her mother suddenly passes, only complicating things in her life more, sapping her of the last bit of support she had, in many different and distressing ways. The film co-stars Kiefer Sutherland as a new romance in her life, himself facing numerous challenges that cause the two to share a moving, if deeply destructive, bond. A film built out of ever increasing desperation and shot with breathtaking virtuosity by Bradford Young, Where Is Kyra? is bound to be one of this year’s most polarizing pictures, as well as one of its most difficult and ultimately rewarding.
As an actor’s showcase, this is second to none this year. Pfeiffer’s performance here is not only genuinely thrilling to watch, but also brought to life by a director (Mother Of George’s Andrew Dosunmu) who gives her the room to truly shred all self importance and vanity through the use of longer shots and framing that isolates her from the world she lives within. Quiet and built on a foundation of shadows and darkness, Kyra sees Pfeiffer’s performance coming to life in these dimly lit interiors, giving her literal cover from the eyes of both the viewer and the people that have Kyra surrounded, and allowing her to turn in a performance that is as deeply lived in as it is shockingly unsentimental and understated. Being at once impressively naturalistic and yet also not afraid to play into the histrionics of the role, Pfeiffer is an absolute revelation here, in what is a devastating film about life on the economic periphery.
Yet, again, without Dosunmu’s direction, that towing of the line between naturalism and melodrama wouldn’t work nearly as well, or at all really. Dosunmu’s camera is quite static, playing in many ways like a distinctly American take on the films of Pedro Costa, showing the self destructive nature of poverty to be endless and oppressive. The photography is incredibly dark, leaning heavily on the use of shadow to bring about a sense of dread and impending doom, playing to the viewer as something almost hyper real. There’s not a bar on Earth as dimly lit as the ones we venture into here, and yet there’s a tactile quality to the film that makes the viewer sure they’ve been to that exact one. When the film does occasionally go in motion, the tracking shots are quite tense, and the close ups even more so. This is a film about shifting tones and moods, and when the film follows suit these shifts are quite moving. Philip Young’s score is also quite thrilling, playing to the film’s weirdly otherworldly nature quite well. It’s a score that wouldn’t normally fit this type of naturalistic picture, but then again neither does the contrast heavy photography or the off kilter framing, yet when played in unison it’s a hell of a symphony. One of 2018’s toughest watches, it’s also one of its greatest, so far.
By Joshua Brunsting | CriterionCast
FILM REVIEW: ‘WHERE IS KYRA’ FINDS MICHELLE PFEIFFER A NICE STARRING ROLE
Few stars shine as bright as Michelle Pfeiffer. With performances like “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and even as recently as “mother!” and “The Wizard of Lies,” Pfeiffer commands the screen in a way few people do. Sundance Film Festival premiere “Where Is Kyra” presents Pfeiffer with her first starring headlining role since 2009. As a star vehicle and a warning of the fragile economic uncertainty of a majority of people, “Where Is Kyra” works well. However, the elements that work are muddled by on-the-nose misery porn filmmaking.
Kyra Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) spends her days looking for work and taking care of her ailing mother (Suzanne Shepherd). Money is tight and she’s still reeling from her divorce and job loss. Matters get worse when her mother finally dies. Left alone and without money, Kyra searches for a life raft. She finds this in the form of her mother’s pension checks. However, only Kyra’s mother is able to cash those checks. As Kyra falls for her sympathetic alcoholic neighbor, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), she goes to desperate measures to keep her head above water.
It’s terrific to see Michelle Pfeiffer anchor a film again. Her talent hasn’t dulled since her heyday in the 80s and 90s. She plays against type with Kyra, but her trademark ferocity and commitment remains intact. She wonderfully conveys Kyra’s desperation without having to resort to easy histrionics. There’s a brokenness in her eyes that truly haunts. Early scenes with her mother show Kyra as a loving, yet exhausted daughter. However, as she begins to inhabit her mother’s persona, Pfeiffer tenses up. There’s a real high wire act to her scenes in disguise. Even under the layers of clothes and scarves, Pfeiffer communicates so much with her body language. It’s a strong acting showcase that begs casting directors to give her a career resurgence.
Her relationship with Kiefer Sutherland’s Doug appears much less textured. There’s something nice about seeing the reserved, depressed Kyra find a sliver of happiness with Doug. However, the rest of the relationship feels rather hollow. Much is made of how Doug has put his life back together and makes sacrifices for his relationship with Kyra. However, his plight never becomes as interesting as Kyra’s troubles. In many ways, it serves as a distraction that slows the movie down.
This reflects many of the problems with the film. Other than Pfeiffer’s performance, the film struggles to maintain a pulse. Director Andrew Dosunmu insists on wallowing in the film’s dour nature. The final act of the film finds suspense, which helps move it along. However, the rest of the film slogs along at a glacial pace. Cinematographer Bradford Young has shot some incredible films, such as “Arrival,” “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year.” This is not one of them. Some of the shots are well composed. However, the nearly pitch black lighting feels on the nose and visually uninteresting. Paired with the screeching score by Philip Miller and many scenes feel excruciating. Pfeiffer does enough storytelling with a simple look that the film doesn’t need to belabor every drama with a cacophony of sounds and dark, “gritty” shots.
Much of the movie revolves around how women of a certain age are forgotten by society. This point rings true as Kyra humiliates herself just to get part-time work. Moments like this are where the thesis of the film shines loud and clear. Michelle Pfeiffer deserves to have more starring projects that focus on the lives of women we don’t normally see represented. Yet, why does the film saddle this story with an unnecessary romance, poor lighting, and a bombastic score? The film should put its trust in their central star, Pfeiffer.
By Christopher James | Awards Circuit
WHERE IS KYRA? (MOVIE REVIEW)
The superbly talented Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland return to the big screen in the new Drama, Where Is Kyra?, which arrives to theaters on Friday, April 6, 2018, thanks to the good folks at Great Point Media.
In Parkside, Brooklyn, down-on-her-luck Kyra (Pfeiffer: One Fine Day 1996, Murder on the Orient Express 2017) is struggling to balance caring for her elderly and ailing mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd: Goodfellas 1990, Requiem for a Dream 2000), with keeping the pair financially afloat. Unfortunately, with the economic situation as it is, Kyra was downsized from her job two years earlier, and continues to toil away at trying to find steady work in New York.
When Kyra’s succession of endless bad days culminates in tragedy, she suffers through her mother’s sparsely-attended funeral and finds herself at a local watering hole, in need of alcoholic companionship. Here she meets an attractive neighbor, Doug (Sutherland: 24 series, Designated Survivor series), who is also grinding away to survive, working as both a cabbie and a nursing home attendant. When one drink leads to another, the two find themselves back at Kyra’s place consummating the beginnings of a new relationship.
What follows sees Kyra’s situation spiraling further and further into the depths of darkness as her financial situation grows ever more tenuous. Forced to assume a double-identity to try and keep herself from drowning, Kyra will have to face facts when her covert operations eventually catch up to her, ten-fold. Clocking in at 98 minutes in-length, Where Is Kyra? was directed by Andrew Dosunmu (Hot Irons documentary 1999, Mother of George 2013) and was written by Dosunmu and Darci Picoult (Mother of George 2013), based off a screenplay by Picoult. It also stars Tony Okungbowa (The One Last Time short 2009, Echo Park 2014); Babs Olusanmokun (Black Mirror series, The Defenders miniseries); and Sam Robards (Casualties of War 1989, American Beauty 1999).
Where Is Kyra? presents a desolate view of one woman’s predicament-filled life, a bleak picture of what it means to truly be down on your luck. Director Dosunmu places a truly somber and melancholic pall over his film, evoking deep, dark emotions and an endless sympathy for our heroine’s dire circumstances. Just when Kyra believes it cannot possibly get any worse, it always does. Ultimately, the end result is a kind of social commentary that tackles our troubled economic times, represented by one destitute woman, struggling to try and find her feet in a rain-slicked, endlessly overcast climate.
As the titular character, Pfeiffer, as she so often is, is impressive. She manages to allow the weight of her character’s situation to weigh physically upon her shoulders, translating her endless emotional struggles into visual cues for her viewers. The emotional strife is always apparent on her face, and the bleakness of her character’s situation seems to age Ms. Pfeiffer on film; she wears her role on her person flawlessly. The irony, however, is that no matter how hard one might try to make Pfeiffer look tossed together and frumpy, she is a woman who always looks put-together and stylish, even when wearing a school bus-colored raincoat and rumpled jeans. Aiding to the entire production, Pfeiffer’s on-screen chemistry with her co-star Sutherland is organic, and they share several playful moments that serve to delicately lighten the black mood. In his role, Sutherland is largely here to support Pfeiffer’s character, though he is exemplary as the more jovial Doug, as is generally the case with his acting chops.
Dosunmu places a gentle yet artistic spin on the cinematography here, oft times choosing to focus on Pfeiffer during moments of intense conversation, omitting the second actor from view entirely. The end result is a kind of myopic view of Kyra’s situation, allowing viewers to lose themselves entirely inside this troubled woman’s psyche and, in turn, creating a more vast empathy for her situation. Additionally, musically speaking, there is a kind of discordant melee that occurs throughout the film’s original, classical score whenever Pfeiffer steps into her alter-ego, an auditory cue that might initially seem bizarre but works wonderfully to amplify this secondary mood.
Shot in New York – in locations ranging from Hempstead, Long Island, to Flatbush and Mt. Vernon – Where Is Kyra? is a tragically realistic Drama, one that asks viewers to put themselves into the shoes of one truly unfortunate woman. While the title might seemingly imply that this is a whodunnit, that is absolutely not the case here. Lost in the tumultuous maze of life, we instead watch Kyra flounder to find her footing as her circumstances snowball down a mountainous hillside.
With splendid acting, and a truly moody yet artistic bent throughout the entire production, this is a film that is guaranteed to steal away your warm fuzzies but, in turn, make you do some thinking. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Where Is Kyra?
4 of 5 stars.
By Jeannie Blue | Cryptic Rock
Michelle Pfeiffer Is Stunning in Where Is Kyra?
In Where Is Kyra?, Michelle Pfeiffer is stunning as a desperate, near-destitute woman whose life is shrouded in darkness. And not just metaphorical darkness. The Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu seems to have a philosophical aversion to light. Either that or — as Pauline Kael once speculated about Clint Eastwood — he forgot to pay his Con Ed bill. See this on the big screen if you want to see it all. And do see it.
Somewhere in the pools of black is Pfeiffer as Kyra Johnson, who has moved into her elderly mother’s dim Brooklyn apartment, where she bathes and ministers to the frail old woman (Suzanne Shepherd), and walks her through the sunless city to the bank to deposit pension and disability checks. It’s clear this is a deeply loving relationship, despite the fact that they speak in monosyllables and the apartment appears to have only one light bulb. One day, after Kyra visits a succession of (also dim) offices looking for work that never comes, she returns to find her mother has died, leaving her with no support, emotional or financial. The emotional part is eventually taken care of by Kiefer Sutherland as a soft-spoken old-age-home worker whom she meets in a dark bar. Her solution to the financial problem, meanwhile, is novel, stirring, and — in keeping with movie’s visual palette — none too bright.
Nearly everything in Where Is Kyra? is indirect, off the nose. Early on, there are so few close-ups that it’s a while before we can even make out Pfeiffer’s features. But when those close-ups finally come, they register. Dosunmu and his accomplished cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) aren’t averse to color. They find pockets of it. When characters connect, the reds and greens glow. But their Brooklyn is otherwise a gray, dying city in which individual lives are lost amid a sea of tilted poles and street signs and overhead train tracks. The South African composer Philip Miller creates a soundscape of squeals and dissonant plinks, of horns that sound like groans of metal — or are they groans of metal transmuted into horns? There’s a bizarre industrial wail as the camera follows a bent-over old woman tapping her cane along the sidewalk towards a bank. Is that … ? Would she … ? Oh, yes, she would.
Pfeiffer’s performances tend to be high-strung, her dry, unmusical voice in striking contrast to her ethereal features. I didn’t think she could embody someone like Kyra, an outcast flailing to hold onto the social safety net and slowly, agonizingly, slipping through. But she has always been full of surprises. Here, the tension in her face and body is infectious — it puts us on edge. The boundlessly empathetic playwright Darci Picoult — who collaborated with Dosunmu on Mother of George — has pared the dialogue to its essentials. Kyra is too scared of losing what little she has to have the energy to muse on the politics of her situation. She needs to keep her phone turned on. She needs to pay the rent.
Once or twice, Where Is Kyra? crosses the border into the world of classic farce, of absurd disguises and babbled lies. But it’s slow-motion farce, with a clear view of the abyss. Although the movie causes eyestrain and has too many arty longueurs, Dosunmu pulls off something few directors dare: He makes the darkness visible.
Michelle Pfeiffer Gives the Performance of Her Life in “Where Is Kyra?”
There has always been an air of loneliness about Michelle Pfeiffer onscreen. Even in her glamorous, gorgeous movie-star heyday, she often played women who were somewhat removed from the world. Catwoman, after all, was a cat lady, Countess Ellen Olenska in The Age of Innocence an outcast, Married to the Mob’s Angela de Marco a widow out of step with the mafia housewives surrounding her. It wasn’t so much unapproachability, or aloofness that she conveyed, but a reserve that suggested — even in some of her comedies — melancholy, pain, dreams deferred.
I hadn’t fully realized this until I saw Andrew Dosunmu’s marvelous, shattering Where is Kyra?, in which the actress is often the sole figure onscreen, playing a New York woman sliding deeper into poverty and despair. Although the film might seem a departure for her — and at least in terms of budget, it certainly is — watching it, I felt that Dosunmu had connected to something elemental within Pfeiffer, that solitude that brought subtle dimension to her earlier, more famous roles. This is the kind of part, and the kind of performance, that makes you see an actor’s entire career in a new light. And it’s probably the best she’s ever been.
When we first meet Pfeiffer’s Kyra, she’s living in a small, cluttered apartment caring for her elderly, ailing mother. She already seems like she’s at the end of her rope…and then mom dies. Unable to find any work — she’s either too old, too late, or too poor to get the gigs — Kyra descends further into desperation. She strikes a tensely 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 instead about the things we do to survive in extreme circumstances, and Dosunmu’s grim gaze never wavers from Kyra’s predicament. The director 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 conveyed so clearly.
Dosunmu — whose last film was the sublime Mother of George (written, like Kyra, by Darci Picoult) – is an electrifying filmmaker, a former photographer with a striking sense of composition as well as a willingness to experiment with image, audio, and narrative. He brings rhythmic rumblings to the soundtrack, walls of noise that drift in and out, a disorienting symphony of subways, street noise, chatter, and silence. Kyra is both of this world and outside it – part of a landscape of poverty and sadness that’s ever-present, but also often invisible.
The whole movie is built on such contrasts. 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 what we see is fatigue, anger, loneliness, hopelessness. The way Dosunmu shoots her, she appears 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 | The Village Voice
Michelle Pfeiffer is brilliant in bleak drama Where Is Kyra?: EW review
Michelle’s Pfeiffer’s return to screen, Where Is Kyra?, feels like an overcast day during which the sun never makes it out. But somehow the actress still manages to shine — even as the movie chronicles her character’s bleak demise.
We’re introduced to Pfeiffer’s Kyra helping her sick mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), bathe in their shared apartment. It’s clear the two are close, as daughter affectionately and unflinchingly helps mother in her daily needs, but it’s also apparent Kyra has little else to fill her time. She’s struggled to find work since her divorce and return home to New York. Sharing her mother’s disability checks, the situation could be graver for Kyra. Then, Ruth dies.
But due to a social security number mixup, the death isn’t immediately registered, and soon Kyra realizes she can get away with continuing to cash her mom’s benefit checks. How? Kyra is unnoticeable. No one takes more than a minute to look at her — as striking a beauty as Pfeiffer is, even with a bare face and wearing a worn, mustard-colored raincoat — as she trudges from crappy dinner to dingy office in hopes of securing some work, any work, and even dresses up as her mother for bank visits to fraudulently cash the checks.
The only person whose attention she does catch is the equally down-on-his-luck Doug (Keifer Sutherland), and the two begin a romance without any of the fanfare or excitement of a new relationship. It seems to be an attraction born out of desperation to feel something more than anything else.
And so we settle into the dreary pattern of Kyra’s destitute life, as she’s overwhelmed by financial woe and overlooked by society. Where Is Kyra? certainly isn’t an easy watch; it’s a moody movie that’s mostly a character study and definitely not for the action-hearted.
Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George and Restless City) keeps the dialogue sparse throughout the film so that the unfilled silences, coupled with dimly lit shots and the use of long camera angles that often partially cut out or obscure Kyra in the frame, add to the overall grim motif. This feeling of unrelenting despair can become a tad tedious.
In the final third of the movie, suspense and urgency do build more quickly — heightened exponentially by a jarring, alarmingly screechy score that is more noise than music — as Kyra’s ruse gradually comes closer to being uncovered. At every beat, Pfeiffer poignantly conveys Kyra’s misery, from the quieter hopeless moments to the more frantically despondent. And the actress’ finesse makes it worth the watch.
The elusive Kyra may not be discovered by the end of this movie, but Pfeiffer’s presence on screen is found, felt, and not forgotten.
By Ruth Kinane | Entertainment Weekly
Michelle Pfeiffer disappears into literal and figurative darkness in the bold Where Is Kyra?
Now and then, a movie attempts something so unorthodox that certain theaters notify customers in advance that what they’ll experience is not a projection error. Signs outside multiplexes showing Crooklyn (1994), for example, warned patrons about one lengthy sequence that Spike Lee shot anamorphically and then chose not to unsqueeze, creating deliberately distorted images that really did look as if they must be a mistake. More recently, Rian Johnson’s decision to cut all sound for a key moment in The Last Jediinspired at least two AMC theaters to put up a similar notice (though they were quickly taken down after being shared on social media), explaining, “This is intentionally done by the director for a creative effect.”
The same thing could potentially occur with the new indie drama Where Is Kyra?, especially if it plays in some of the many U.S. theaters that show movies at less than the industry-standard 14 foot-lamberts. Lit by the superb cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival, Selma, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), this is the darkest film—emotionally, sure, but also in terms of literally just being able to see what’s going on through the gloom—since perhaps the climax of Unforgiven. “That should have been called Where Is The Damn Light Switch?” multiple jokers will surely crack. It’s a bold, initially alienating choice on the part of Young and director Andrew Dosunmu (who previously collaborated on Mother Of George), and they push that morose aesthetic even further via compositions that keep characters at a distance, or isolate them in tiny slivers of the frame, or keep them out of the frame entirely as they’re speaking. Over time, their approach takes on an elemental power that justifies its extremity. It’s the correct look for a singularly grim vision.
The film’s screenplay, written (like Mother Of George) by Dosunmu and Darci Picoult, isn’t much more forthcoming. Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is first seen tending to her elderly mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), who’s so frail that she can barely walk without assistance. Ruth soon dies, and it gradually becomes clear, in a fragmented and discursive way, that Kyra was downsized two years earlier and depended on Mom’s pension checks to survive. We see her apply for one dead-end, minimum-wage job after another, getting stiffly polite responses from employers who pretty clearly aren’t looking for someone who’s pushing 60. A tentative romance with an almost equally broke neighbor, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), lifts her spirits a bit, but neither he nor her ex-husband (Sam Robards) can offer any financial help. So dire do Kyra’s straits become that she repeatedly dresses up as her dead mother and fake-hobbles her way to the bank, cashing checks that are still arriving in the mail due to a clerical error. That’s a criminal act, of course, constituting fraud, but the sheer desperation and attendant loss of dignity that drive it are what register most strongly.
Unlike Oren Moverman’s superficially similar Time Out Of Mind, in which Richard Gere plays a homeless man, Where Is Kyra? doesn’t constantly feel like what it necessarily is: the work of wealthy people simulating poverty. In part, that’s thanks to Pfeiffer’s vanity-free, internalized performance, which could hardly be more different from her deliciously abrasive turn in last year’s Mother! (It’s great to have her back.) Dosunmu and Young give her one extended close-up, when she swallows her pride and begs her ex for a loan (in front of his pregnant new wife), but they otherwise keep her so distant and/or shrouded that pleading for audience sympathy would be impossible even were she inclined to do so, which she decidedly isn’t. One needs to be in the right mood for an experience like this—Kyra is relentlessly bleak, building to a final scene that’s almost painful to endure, and it ultimately doesn’t have much to say apart from the basic observation that life is very, very hard for people with zero resources. But it depicts that punishing world with singular artistry. There’s a reason why this woman is so hard to see.
By Mike D’Angelo | THE A.V.CLUB
Michelle Pfeiffer dominates quiet story of loss
The death of a parent is a final cutting of the apronstrings, a literal disassociation from the life you grew up with into the harsh world of adulthood. For some people, this is less of a shock if you exit the house at 18. For others, a dependent connection to a parent – enhanced by sickness or the like – can leave a child completely adrift. Andrew Dosunmu’s Where is Kyra? is one such story of a woman’s struggle to find independence and autonomy in the wake of her mother’s death. Meditative and stark, Where is Kyra? is so hypnotic it almost induces sleep, but Michelle Pfeiffer’s entrancing performance is more than capable of commanding people to watch.
Kyra Johnson (Pfieffer) is the sole caretaker for her aging mother. When her mother passes away Kyra finds herself in a constant struggle to support herself and soon starts committing insurance fraud.
Dosunmu and screenwriter Darci Picoult craft a moody, somber tale of loneliness in the wake of a parent’s death. Kyra has spent several years of her life caring for the woman she still calls “Mommy.” As well-adjusted as Kyra seemingly is, the movie slowly reveals how she has been troubled since before her mother’s demise and, possibly, uses the preceding years as an excuse for her failure to find a job. Surrounded in a house filled with furniture from the 1950s, Kyra comes off as completely disconnected from the world around her. She applies for jobs by using newspapers and applying in person, only to be told the positions have been filled weeks ago. Is this intentional self-sabotage or something else?
It’s been over ten years since Michelle Pfeiffer starred in a leading role and it’s frustrating to hear that because Where is Kyra? is her feature! Stripped down with little makeup and mousy brown hair, Pfeiffer effortlessly conveys Kyra’s vulnerability, her melancholy, and her ability to deceive. She spends her days in quiet contemplation, yet comes alive when the possibility of a job is on the horizon. Her relationship with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), an attendant for the elderly, never feels like lasting love but an additional way to staunch her loneliness. Sutherland, to his credit, is given as much characterization as Pfeiffer. He has a daughter he hasn’t seen, and he’s as adrift as her.
What’s fascinating, especially when talking to Dosunmu himself about the film, is the role money does play. Too often films play fast and loose with poverty, creating a world where people are “poor” but still have great apartments and cell phones. Dosunmu is realistic. Kyra doesn’t have a cell phone, and many of the people she meets are struggling just as much as she is. Everyone is living just enough to stay above water, but too cash poor to lose everything.
Through an accident – or another intentional “error” – of incorrectly listing her mother as alive Kyra finds herself without money and resorting to cashing her mother’s pension checks. Because her mother is dead, Kyra takes to dressing up like her mother to get the money. This kicks the plot into high gear after nearly 30 minutes of somber, meditative shots of Pfeiffer and her cute encounters with Doug. Once Kyra dips her toe into criminal waters she goes all in. Much of her decision making is written as relatable “get rich quick” schemes, ie that if she can just get a job she can quit doing what she’s doing. Yet the more she starts to inhabit her mother the more complacent with her lot she seemingly becomes.
Darci Picoult’s script lays out the painful truths we often seek to avoid about us and our parents. The death of Kyra’s mother should give her independence, yet it emotionally strangles her. The script feels like there’s hardly any dialogue at times and you’re left reliant on Pfeiffer’s expressions, a feature compounded by the use of natural light that often completely obscures certain scenes. (Where is Kyra? is a film that assumed it would play on a big screen.)
Where is Kyra? is an introspective, if underfilled feature. Michelle Pfeiffer lays herself bare in a performance that showcases her talent, her sensitivity, and her vulnerability. It’s a performance that burns from the inside out.
By Kristen Lopez | The Young Folks
Michelle Pfeiffer Disassembles Her Character – And Reassembles Her Career – In “Where Is Kyra?”
“As the film progresses, it somehow manages to sustain its dark, dreamy, almost-hallucinatory tone, while also tightening the screws and building tension like a taut thriller.”
In Brooklyn, New York, Kyra (Pfeiffer) loses her job and struggles to survive on her ailing mother’s income. As the weeks and months go on, her problems worsen. This leads her on a risky and enigmatic path that threatens her life.
Out of all the Hollywood career resurgences of late, none makes me happier than the comeback of the goddess Michelle Pfeiffer. She somehow managed to steal every scene featuring her character in Darren Aronofsky’s mesmerizing mind-bender “mother!” Her natural glamour and sophistication lit up Kenneth Branagh’s otherwise-dim “Murder on the Orient Express.” And now comes Andrew Dosunmu’s vérité drama “Where Is Kyra?,” providing the actress with an opportunity to truly showcase her considerable talents in a spectacular, harrowing performance.
Kyra’s mother passes away. She seems to have been the center of Kyra’s life. The middle-aged woman dedicated all her time to taking care of her ailing mom, making sure she’s fed and walked and strapped to her oxygen tank. Stricken by grief and loss and loneliness, Kyra now wanders the streets, her brown hair as disheveled as her soul, fruitlessly searching for a job, a meaning, something to grasp onto. She finds brief solace in Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), but time starts to run out. Job applications disappear into the ether. All the positions Kyra applies for are instantly taken.
With no other choice, she assumes her dead mother’s identity – old-lady wig and all – to collect unemployment checks at the bank. The less opportunities she has, the more Kyra disappears – inside her own mind, inside the memory of her mother and, like a ghost, in a cruel, unaccepting world – until the world shrinks down upon her, making it hard to breathe, literally succumbing Kyra to her mother’s chair, with an oxygen mask strapped to her face.
As the film progresses, it somehow manages to sustain its dark, dreamy, almost-hallucinatory tone, while also tightening the screws and building tension like a taut thriller. Kyra’s plight may be unbeknownst to some, but will in some form or another resonate with most. Its pace may be considered glacial by today’s norms, but Dosunmu wisely avoids Hollywood trappings and sticks to his poetic – if at times verging on overly grim – view of society and death and life.
Cinematographer Bradford Young, who worked on “Arrival” and shot the upcoming “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” does a spectacular job conveying mood here with dimly-lit, amber, angular shots. Most of them involve Kyra, either in the forefront, or blurred in the background, akin to a specter – and boy, does Pfeiffer hold the screen. There are scenes, like the one where Kyra is forced to beg for money, that are borderline unwatchable in their discomfort and sadness, every trace of those feelings conveyed effortlessly by the stalwart. A scaled-back and touching (!) Kiefer Sutherland has genuine chemistry with her, a perfect counterpart, a faint beacon in a disintegrating world.
“Where Is Kyra?” reminded me of another film, Oren Moverman’s sublime “Time Out of Mind.” It also featured a legendary actor – Richard Gere – shedding his glamorous persona in pursuit of something real, a poetic odyssey through the murkier, dreadfully gorgeous pits of humanity. While not quite reaching the heights of Moverman’s feature, Dosunmu certainly achieves something unique and memorable here, anchored by the perfect lead. Kyra may soon be missing, but Michelle is very much back.
By Alex Saveliev, Irish Film Critic
WHERE IS KYRA: Michelle Pfeiffer’s First Lead Role In Nine Years Doesn’t Disappoint
With an outstanding return performance from Michelle Pfeiffer, Where is Kyra? may have been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, but the passage of time hasn’t diluted the sense of thematic urgency…
After starting out the century with appearances in a variety of movies significantly beneath her acting talents, Michelle Pfeiffer has returned from a four year hiatus with two of the most challenging roles in her career.
Her supporting role in Darren Aronofsky’s twisted biblical parable mother! saw her skillfully subvert the hyper-sexualised screen presence of her most memorable roles, and now the first leading performance of her comeback offers her a chance to show the physical and emotional range that recent supporting performances haven’t properly catered for.
The Second Coming of Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer is one of our greatest living actresses, and Where is Kyra? gives her the best opportunity to remind audiences exactly why that is – without her commanding performance, ever-present in every scene, it’s easy to imagine director Andrew Dosunmu’s film would be less than the sum of its parts. But with Pfieffer front and centre, this slow burning character study proves to be powerful, even as it stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.
Two years after losing her job, Kyra (Pfieffer) is living with her elderly, frail mother and using her mother’s income to support the both of them. Her desperation for a job has now caused her to start looking within industries beneath her former line of work, as well as helplessly posting flyers of her resumé to cars. After two years of unemployment, she’s beyond humiliation, even if she is silently continuing to break down internally due to the sustained rejection.
Her mother soon passes away, leaving Kyra in a further financial conundrum that she has an outlandish, not to mention illegal, solution for. This is further complicated when she meets Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), who seems to offer a glimmer of romance and economic stability – but unfortunately, seems to have seen into the mess she’s getting herself deeper into.
I’m refraining from specifying exactly what Kyra’s criminal solution to her money woes is for two reasons. Firstly, it can’t help but sound ridiculous on page – a character detail that would have entirely jettisoned the film’s earnestly working class grit had it been in the hands of a lesser leading performer. Secondly, the winning physicality of Pfeiffer’s performance is better displayed without any prior forewarning as to the direction this story takes.
What begins as a blunt depiction of the realities of old age, similar in theme to Michael Haneke’s Amour, quickly turns into a much stranger and significantly more interesting character study about the realities of being an aging woman out of work, as well as examining the fiscal anxieties of the working class on a micro level.
A timely film – three years after production
In a rarity for the Trump era, “economic anxiety” really isn’t a euphemism disguising the racist intentions of an individual; Dosunmu’s film was made back in 2015, premiering at Sundance in 2017 and has been sitting on a shelf ever since. The film’s tightrope walk of realism and a more heightened crime narrative likely proved off-putting to distributors when pitched to them, but Pfeiffer’s performance really does cast all doubts aside – it’s hard to imagine this film working with another actress at the helm.
Which isn’t to belittle Dosunmu’s decisions behind the camera, as all the aesthetic choices he makes are seemingly designed with the aim of pushing Pfeiffer front and centre. Working in collaboration with regular cinematographer Bradford Young, there’s a focus on keeping the actress at the centre of the frame at all times, creating a suffocating claustrophobia that pushes us directly into her desperate headspace, and highlights the understated physicality so central to what makes the performance work.
This film may have entered production long before mother!, making all comparisons between the two Pfeifferefforts unintentional, but they share enough aesthetic attributes to create a pretty intense double bill. Dosunmu’s camera never takes its eye off Kyra, stalking her as she goes about her daily routine, or playing her most emotive moments in extreme close-up long takes. He depicts Pfeiffer in the same way Darren Aronofskydepicted Jennifer Lawrence, engraining us into her tormented headspace to such an extent, the surreality of the living situation she’s adapting to doesn’t detract from the grounded emotional reality the film introduced to start with.
Where is Kyra? may have been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, but the passage of time hasn’t diluted the sense of thematic urgency. The depths of desperation Kyra falls to may be excessively heightened, but they are grounded in a very palpable case of money problems at their most extreme. Even as unemployment continues to decline, the film maintains a relevancy in a world where the cost of living keeps increasing, and the minimum wage stubbornly shows no sign of rising to levels that would help millions to keep their head above the ground.
It may have been a more effective film had it been released in the wake of the financial crash – but ten years after that seismic event, austerity measures put in place by governments the world over make Kyra’s struggles seem tangible, if not entirely accurate to a specific degree.
Conclusion: Where is Kyra
Although it’s opening act suggests Michelle Pfeiffer going mumble-core, Where is Kyra? is actually a far more substantial work than initially suggested – even if it’s debatable whether or not it would be as impactful with another actress in the lead. Her commitment to the project helps the film increase its intensity when the silly direction of the narrative suggests it should be falling off the tracks altogether. For this reason, the film may effective, but it’s nowhere near as effective as its leading actress, and would not be as worthy of your time without her.
By Alistair Ryder, Film Inquiry
‘Where Is Kyra’ showcases Michelle Pfeiffer’s acting
“Where Is Kyra?” is not a film that grabs headlines; it is one that lingers with a profound emotional, empathetic appeal. For Kyra is that rare woman in narratives: middle-aged, unemployed, down-on-her-luck, and becoming increasingly desperate. With credit cards canceled and homelessness looming, Kyra becomes resourceful by necessity, adopting her recently deceased mother’s identity in order to cash her checks.
There are no spoilers there because the drama comes from a phenomenal performance by Michelle Pfeiffer as Kyra with Kiefer Sutherland as her newly acquired lover Doug. With a dose of dramatic irony, we the audience know much more about Kyra than she reveals to Doug. He watches and suspects while Kyra confronts rejection in the job market and indifference from most of her fellow Brooklynites.
Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu frames and scores “Where Is Kyra?” in unconventional ways. His expertise directing music videos for artists including Isaac Hayes, Common, Aaron Neville and Tracy Chapman transfers eloquently to this film’s music and sound. At several crucial junctures for Kyra, Philip Miller’s plaintive, dissonant sound dominates, advancing an effective, appropriately disturbing commentary on the action.
As arresting, Dosunmu’s compositions frequently isolate Kyra and Doug in long shots, communicating their loneliness, separation from a supportive community, and minimal agency in their lives. At other dramatic moments, close-ups capture a full range of Kyra’s reactions from rage to anguish, vulnerability to determination. Watching Michelle Pfeiffer’s enactment of this woman as a hyperaware and yet disempowered character urges me to more carefully observe this world of so many virtually invisible and needy individuals. And Kiefer Sutherland offers an impeccable counterpoint to the trajectory of Kyra’s troubles.
Equally notable, cinematographer Bradford Young’s dark, noir lighting complements the mood, while Oriana Soddu’s editing never rushes poignant, heart-breaking events. Every technical detail communicates the situation Kyra faces in her struggles with her own resiliency, or lack thereof, in the face of a cruel world. Co-author with Darci Picoult of the story, Dosunmu reminded me art film is in his please for humanity. At Landmark’s Tivoli Cinema.
By Diane Carson, KDHX
WHERE IS KYRA?-FILM REVIEW
Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George) films a moving story of one woman’s attempt to keep herself afloat in light of personal, financial, and emotional ruin. Dosunmu developed the story and Darci Picoult wrote the screenplay of this small, yet gritty film that stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Keifer Sutherland.
After what seemed like an extended absence from the silver screen (since 2013’s The Family), Michelle Pfeiffer has come roaring back with a cable movie alongside Robert DeNiro (The Wizard of Lies), the controversial Mother!, the all-star casted who-done-it Murder on the Orient Express, and this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. In between it all, is a little film called Where is Kyra? that may not gain much notice at the box office, but that will remind audiences of Michelle Pfeiffer’s acting chops.
Pfeiffer plays Kyra, a middle-aged woman who is divorced, and desperately trying to find a job after being let go due to a bad economy at her previous job. Complicating matters is that she is living with her elderly mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd-Goodfellas, Lolita), who needs help bathing, operating her oxygen tank, or even walking to the bank. When Ruth passes away, Kyra finds that an error in filling out her mother’s death certificate means that her mother’s pension and disability checks keep showing up. When the bank won’t cash them without Ruth being there, Kyra begins to don her mother’s wig and clothing in order to cash the checks and survive.
Along the way, she will meet her neighbor Doug (Sutherland), who works as a nursing home orderly. Doug is trying to overcome addiction in his own life and works two jobs. As he falls for Kyra, he is torn between casting her away when he finds out the fraud she is committing, and seeking to “save her” from her dire situation. Will Kyra drag them both down?
Dosunmu keeps a steady hand on his lens opting to shoot wide shots from a distance, whether in an apartment setting, or outside. Sometimes this might be a camera angle behind a wrought-iron door as we watch Michelle Pfeifer’s Kyra fumble with some keys, or from the doorway of a bedroom where we can barely see the portion of Sutherland’s torso, or Pfeiffer’s leg, as they either make love, or make small talk.
It is when Pfeiffer dons the wig that the soundtrack abruptly changes into an industrial sound of metal scraping mixed with some feedback creating a frenzied mood to match Kyra’s desperation to engage in such theft. It is also at these times that Dosunmu chooses to occasionally tighten the lens into close-up and somewhat claustrophobic shots, such as Kyra locking herself into a bathroom stall to change out of her mother’s outfit into her own, especially as someone is beating on the bathroom stall, trying to get in no matter how many times Kyra shouts that she’s in the stall. Just enough tension, at key moments of the narrative, seem to go a long way for this film, that often is content enough to quietly share Kyra’s situation with us.
The pacing of the film, along with its detached, yet observational camera lens gives the film a more naturalistic feel as nothing really seems to be manipulating the viewer into feeling any particular emotion towards Kyra, or her plight, other than what we are selectively shown. Even when the ambulance arrives to collect the deceased Ruth, we aren’t treated to the sounds of the siren, but merely the visual of them.
Where is Kyra? is not just a line from the film, where one character inquires about her, but it is the larger existential question of the character herself. She is obviously drowning in her circumstances, and as a result the decisions she is making as a reaction to her circumstances begs the title of the film as a larger question of how we can lose ourselves in the process of our flailing about, raging against life’s turbulent waters.
Michelle Pfeiffer is riveting in the role, and I hope that it is a signal of more true character acting roles in her future, rather than just supporting roles where she merely appears in the film. Keifer Sutherland is always fun to watch, and it is a shame he doesn’t do much film work. While he can carry a television series like Designated Survivor or his career-defining role as Jack Bauer in 24, he has excelled in films where he is either a part of an ensemble, or in a strong supporting role. Films like The Lost Boys, A Time to Kill, or even the flat, well…Flatliners. He and Pfeiffer have a good chemistry together, especially for where the script brings these characters in the end.
Where is Kyra opens in select markets on April 13, 2018.
By Erik Yates, ZEKEFILM
Movie Review – Where is Kyra? (2018)
Michelle Pfeiffer continues to make a comeback; recently she was seen as one of the best parts of the Murder on the Orient Express remake and also turned some heads as a confrontational, invasive, and enigmatic wife in Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, but it’s her brooding, depressing, and agonizing central performance as an aging woman in Andrew Dosunmu’s (Mother of George) moody work that premiered at last year’s Sundance film festival intriguingly titled Where is Kyra? that emerges as her strongest turn in at least a decade.
However, this is most certainly not a film for those without patience as it does opt for the route of quiet atmosphere, facial expressions longing with emotional pain, and defeated body language to convey its narrative rather than tell a straightforward and conventional story about loss, crushing loneliness, and illegal behavior brought on by the walls of financial stability closing in rapidly. Andrew Dosunmu confidently grants Bradford Young’s cinematography (mostly known for his Oscar-nominated work on the intelligent sci-fi thriller Arrival and A Most Violent Year) the honor of setting the mood, lighting Kyra’s apartment in creeping darkness as the audience, from a distance, watches her bring her ill mother (she seems to always be congested and in need of medical treatments conducted from home to help clear the gunk out and improve her breathing) from her bedroom to the nearby bathroom with a shower for cleaning all within the same unbroken shot that also utilizes mirror reflections and repositioned doors to aesthetically pleasing and immersive effects.
None of this ever changes; the photography in Where is Kyra? is either removed from the characters or a close-up of Kya, and the entire movie is devoid of any light. This allows for viewers to feel as emotionally disconnected from Kyra as she is to herself, while consistently making for arresting visuals thanks to complex camera operation. Even the title of the film apparently is not a literal question, but a metaphorical one referring to the emptiness residing inside Kyra’s mental well-being.
Following the natural passing of her mother (a methodically constructed and paced scene that lets the shock of the event fully hit Kyra), the above sadness is only amplified, but now there are additional problems considering that Kyra, who no longer has a job despite always being out and about looking for any work possible, can no longer cash her mother’s pension checks. For whatever silly reason, those in charge are unaware that the woman has passed (a frustrating piece of narrative convenience that one simply has to overlook in order for there to be a film), giving Kyra the dangerously desperate idea to cover herself in as much as her mother’s clothing as possible (heavy jackets, hats, and sunglasses) and mimic her snail reminiscent walk to go collect the money as if she was still alive. Ridiculous is an appropriate word for it, especially considering every time this happened my mind went to a similar disguise played for comedic purposes in the Mark Wahlberg/Will Ferrell buddy comedy The Other Guys. With that in mind, Michelle Pfeiffer’s commitment to the role through terrific acting is enough to keep the downbeat themes and tone from slipping away from Dosunmu’s hands.
Kyra also meets a similarly down on his luck fellow played by Kiefer Sutherland, who is both presented as her light in the darkness and a voice of reason to fraudulent schemes that could potentially lead her directly to prison. Backstory seems to be of no concern, and that is where the film can occasionally feel alienating. This is a film built on the craftsmanship of the medium (direction, cinematography, acting), letting audiences fill in the blanks. There also just isn’t much going on, with the ending feeling as a no-brainer that lacks a spark. Essentially, the film is constantly pushing the audience away from truly caring about anything happening, and factoring in that even for a 100-minute running time, things tend to drag causing the mind to wander. For example, the title card for the film appears as slightly over 20 minutes in, immediately following the death of Kyra’s mother which is nothing more than lengthy scenes displaying personal care along with her sickness.
Regardless, as a vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer to flat-out act, Where is Kyra? is effective. From the opening moments, she is placed into a crummy situation that only worsens, and for as little character development as there is it is easy to empathize with her struggle because we do see her try and try to dig herself out of the hole that she doesn’t feel responsible for being stuck in. It takes a remarkable talent to sell and make work the film’s shortcomings, but she mostly succeeds. Unfortunately, the beautiful shot framings and her winning performance are the only elements worth recommending, but then again, they are top-notch ingredients to this middling feature.
By Robert Kojder, Flickering Myth
Movie Review: ‘Where Is Kyra’
Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) has moved back in with her elderly mother (Suzanne Shepherd) to help as a live-in caretaker. Her altruism is somewhat offset by her circumstances: divorced and unable to find work since downsizing eliminated her job two years prior, Kyra enjoys a frugal yet expense-free existence courtesy of her mother’s pension checks. Comfort breeds complacency and, when her mother dies unexpectedly, Kyra has no other means of support. Expenses pile up quickly. She falls behind on rent, can’t afford her phone bill, and still can’t find even part-time employment.
The only bright spot in Kyra’s dwindling worldview is Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a fellow tenant in the building also struggling to make ends meet. Doug’s kindness and sympathy make her uncomfortable, though; where dependence on her mother was acceptable, handouts from her lover are not. Although her situation fails to improve with time, a spot of administrative good luck staves off disaster for a time. A one digit error in her mother’s social security number results in a rejected death certificate application. Still in possession of her mother’s clothes and wig, Kyra takes advantage of the mistake and continues cashing her pension checks in disguise.
To focus on the details is to ignore Where is Kyra’s central point, though. Because this is a film about loneliness, alienation, and the isolation of living alone in a bustling city. Where is Kyra languishes in yellowy darkness; if the subject matter fails to depress on its own, then the oily shadows and anemic lighting of dingy apartments and the nighttime streets of New York will. Characters rarely share the frame together, isolated by even the camera. When they do it’s often in the reflection of mirrors and windows, their environment conspiring towards loneliness as well. The few moments when Kyra and Doug get to stand beside one another or—most astonishing of all—touch each other provide relief from the emotional claustrophobia.
Pfeiffer continues her recent string of superb performances, taking advantage of long pauses to communicate more in silence than the script (penned by director Andrew Dosunmu and Darci Picoult) says through speech. Dowdy clothes and a pinched expression cannot quite conceal a mischievous attractiveness beaten down by ill luck and poor choices. Pfeiffer turns Kyra into a creature worthy of pity rather than condescension. As her part-time lover Doug, Sutherland comes across as positively chipper by comparison. He buoys an otherwise dreary succession of events until he too gets dragged into Kyra’s desperate schemes.
Where is Kyra might not be the most cheerful film of the year—it may in fact be one of the most depressing—but it is honest. Two excellent performances by Pfeiffer and Sutherland make the emotional wringer worthwhile, but brace yourself for a dark and dismal ride.
By Jacquelin Hipes, Red Carpet Crash
Michelle Pfeiffer as you’ve never seen her in ‘Where Is Kyra?’
Gosh, but it’s good to have Michelle Pfeiffer back.
It’s especially good to see this much of her, laid emotionally bare in a leading role with enough heft to anchor a drama as unrelentingly despairing as “Where Is Kyra?” Pfeiffer is cast powerfully against type, divested of her trademark glamor and shine to play a woman who, when she finds herself at the end of her rope, stops trying to climb and fashions a noose.
Kyra has hit a rough patch in a phase of life where she should be enjoying stability. Instead of approaching her own impending golden years in a warm home with a sizable nest egg, she finds herself absent her husband (now divorced) and full-time job (two years laid off), living with her infirm and elderly mother. The two scrape by on paltry pension checks, which are a trial for the old woman to cash on hobbling excursions to the bank.
They’re such a trial that it’s no shock when, after one such arduous trip, she quietly dies in the apartment, leaving Kyra to navigate the wreckage of her life solo – and without the pension checks that were sustaining her.
A friendship struck up with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a considerate and lonely neighbor, starts to turn into something more after a few commiserating drinks at the bar. He has his own checkered past, but one he’s seemingly surmounted through sheer will and a desire to do good. Their connection could offer Kyra an escape hatch, or at least a relief valve, if desperation weren’t already driving her to extremes from which she might not be able to recover.
“Where Is Kyra?” is ratcheting agony to watch. You almost have to peek through your fingers when Kyra tries to cash a check, buys a rum and Coke on her credit card and overturns her purse for spare change at the register. And that’s only the first phase of impoverishment, before the phone line is cut and the heat turned off. A horror-movie dread sets in. The monster here hasn’t got fangs or razor-sharp claws, but a collection notice.
Pfeiffer may be stripped of her luminosity, but she is vivid onscreen. The camera lingers on her, often in intimate close-ups. Complicated, emotionally wrought conversations play out with only her drawn face in the frame, leaving us to imagine the other person’s reactions based solely on her subtle changes in expression. It’s a heavy load, and one that she bears with grace.
Director Andrew Dosunmu is enamored of his photographer’s eye. He’s not shy to let a shot linger if it looks good, even past a scene’s dramatic efficacy. Often, that comes at a price, with compositions that are more captivating than characters. “Where Is Kyra?” is just as technically confident, if narratively less successful, than Dosunmu’s well-regarded 2013 film “Mother of George.” In his follow-up he’s gone even more interior and minimalist. One admires the daring even if the result feels slight.
Except when Pfeiffer’s performance is the focus. Nothing feels slight about that.
By Barbara VanDenburgh, The Republic | azcentral.com
Where is Kyra?
Where is Kyra? charts the gradual unraveling of a woman on the margins, a string of bad choices pushing her from into a decidedly unspectacular conflict with the law.
As with most famous film cities, the New York of cinema is idealized as a land of opportunity, defined by open avenues and wide thoroughfares, whether these roads lead its strivers and aspirants to success or to ruin. Yet for most residents of America’s biggest metropolis, the ambitions of wide-eyed dreamers are largely incidental to their everyday reality, a fact that seems especially pertinent as rampant gentrification drives cost of living through the roof. Tapping into this discomfort, and pulling inspiration from gritty noir classics like Naked City and Blast of Silence, recent films like Good Time have drawn on this undercurrent of mounting outer-borough angst. Andrew Dosunmu’s Where is Kyra?, meanwhile, approaches a similar subject in an entirely different vein, charting the gradual unraveling of a woman on the margins, a string of bad choices pushing her from into a decidedly unspectacular conflict with the law.
Yet what results from this imbroglio is a surprising, stylized enigma of a film: a story about the struggles of aging wrapped inside of an acute economic parable, utilizing a spare Neorealist plot entwined within the sinewy simplicity of a ‘50s B-movie. Set in the shadows of the elevated cross-Queens 7 line, in gloomy, windswept locations from Long Island City to Jackson Heights, it depicts a functional underworld without the usual criminal elements, the kind of environment explored in work like James Gray’s similarly stygian Two Lovers, with some clear tricks borrowed from the Brooklyn director’s style. Here though, the oppressiveness of overwhelming family structures is replaced with the prominent absence thereof, in working-class neighborhoods where any sense of community has by now dissipated.
This presents a clear pivot from Dosunmu’s previous effort, 2013’s Mother of George, whose Bed-Stuy Yoruba milieu imagined family as a fraught—albeit intensely vivid—network of familial and cultural affiliations. While that film’s heroine was forced to embark on a secretive quest amid a labyrinth of prying eyes and questioning relatives, this one’s does the same in a setting defined by its lack of close relationships. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Kyra, a few years off a divorce but still not quite back on her feet, now serving as her elderly, housebound mother’s sole caretaker. After her mother dies, saddled with the stress of finding work while settling the old woman’s affairs, she eventually falls into impersonating the old woman, in order to continue cashing her weekly pension checks.
Ensconced in her mother’s cluttered, tomb-like apartment, Kyra dons the gray wig, heavy coat and cataract sunglasses necessary for this transformation, surrounded by old objects which she cannot sell off. Building upon the masterful camerawork exhibited in their previous films, Dosunmu and cinematographer Bradford Young again prove precise cataloguers of such stifling, overstuffed spaces, an aesthetic extended to rain-streaked streets and narrow barrooms. Pfeiffer tackles her difficult role with aplomb, managing to evoke the exhausted ambivalence of a beautiful, dignified woman forced to flirt with decrepitude as a means of survival, too old to land receptionist jobs but too young to qualify for social benefits. Kiefer Sutherland, meanwhile, offers an impressive turn as Kyra’s embattled ex-con love interest, a man whose inborn impulses are similarly frustrated, his quasi-heroic efforts to assist this wounded woman derailing his noble attempts to stick to the straight and narrow.
Besides functioning as a decent argument for a universal basic income, Where is Kyra? also works as a distinct marriage of stylistic bombast and narrative nuance. As with Mother of George, it abounds in unorthodox setups and sophisticated split-frame compositions, characters placed in awkward positions that emphasize negative space and interpersonal isolation. The film’s only real flaw is its incessant visual dreariness, which fits the somber tone but lacks the eye-popping intensity of Mother of George. That gets made up for via an increase in overall complexity, a compelling pocket drama that also serves as a fascinating portrait of people out of place and a community in flux, layers laid atop one another to form a dense, dizzying composite work.
By Jesse Cataldo, Spectrum Culture
Michelle Pfeiffer, seen from a distance, gives everything to ‘Where Is Kyra?’
There’s a political idea, a stylistic idea and a story idea in “Where Is Kyra?” and all of them taken separately are interesting enough, or at least sincerely committed in a way that’s not typical in movies.
There is also a serious actress on the premises — Michelle Pfeiffer — willing to go to the wall for this film and give it everything she has. This is what Pfeiffer always does and is one of the reasons she’s an extraordinary talent.
But the movie’s stylistic idea gets in the way of its story, and the story is too slim to sustain a full-length feature. And as the political ideas become as self-conscious as the style, “Where Is Kyra?” starts to feel a little like poverty porn, an opportunity for audiences to feel pleased with themselves for two reasons: (1) for being caring people who are willing to sit through this; and (2) for being better off than the title character.
Director Andrew Dosunmu shoots “Where Is Kyra?” mostly in long takes and from a distance, and usually in darkness. A common technique he employs is to have the action take part in the right half of the frame, while the left part of the screen is in shadow. Sometimes he will interrupt the shot with a close-up, but never so that you can feel close to the action, and sometimes there are no close-ups or medium shots at all.
That’s definitely an idea. But it’s the sort of idea that went out with Alice Guy Blache, which is to say that filming everything in long shot pretty much exhausted itself as a storytelling strategy circa 1910. It’s hard to see what’s gained by watching a middle-aged daughter talk to her aged mother as though we were witnessing this from two rooms away. Nor is there any benefit apparent in filming, as though from the next apartment, a woman washing clothes in the sink.
At the start of the film, Kyra (Pfeiffer) has been out of work for two years, having been downsized from her job, and serves as the caregiver for her very sick mother. Soon the mother dies, which is a source of grief, but also panic. The mother’s pension was the only source of money in Kyra’s life. So now Kyra must look for a job, which she does and keeps doing, walking into every store and office that has a sign in the window. Sometimes the camera follows her into the stores. Sometimes it just hovers on the other side of the glass, again for no reason except perhaps to make the audience feel as frustrated as the character.
Along the way, she meets up with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a nice guy with (it’s suggested) a rocky past, who is only marginally better off than Kyra. He has a job, but it doesn’t pay much. Meanwhile, a woman who looks very much like Kyra’s mother is seen slowly shuffling down a Brooklyn street. But Kyra’s mom is dead, so who is this woman?
Occasionally, Dosunmu’s filmic approach pays off, as in the early scene when Kyra comes home to find that her mother has died. By filming from a distance and staying with the single shot, you can feel the emptiness of the moment without any of the usual relief that movies provide. Someone is gone, and someone is alone, and there’s nothing else.
But the rewards of the strategy are limited and should have been used sparingly, because after a while, the movie feels more committed to the style than to the lead character. Pfeiffer is good — she’s always good, and raw, and effective — but watching her here is like seeing her under glass from a block away. The best scene in the movie, and also the most consequential in terms of plot, comes at the finish, when Dosunmu finally strips off the stylistic straitjacket and puts us inside the moment. But by then, it’s too late.
By Mick LaSalle, SFGATE
Where is Kyra?
Once a fixture at the very top of the Hollywood A-List, Michelle Pfeiffer has no doubt earned the several lengthy breaks she’s taken from acting, but it’s always good to have her back.
Pfeiffer has the screen presence and gravitas of a “movie star” in the classical sense, and 2017 offered some particularly strong reminders of that. Last year, she memorably shared the small screen with Robert DeNiro in the Bernie Madoff biopic The Wizard of Lies, stood out among a stacked ensemble cast in Murder on the Orient Express, and – best of all – delivered a mesmerizing, go-for-broke supporting performance in Darren Aronofsky’s mother!
This fruitful return to the screen continues with Pfeiffer’s turn as the title character in Where is Kyra? The film’s dramatic weight rests largely on her shoulders, and as one might expect, she’s more than capable of carrying it.
A downbeat, social-realist character study about poverty and aging in America, Where is Kyra? comes to us from Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu, who lends the film a melancholy, burnished tone and cannily expressive compositions that serve its central character’s loosening grasp on her own wellbeing. Within his lingering long takes and head-on, center-frame close-ups, Pfeiffer has the latitude to fully communicate Kyra’s inner workings onscreen, and the restrained screenplay by Darci Picoult (who collaborated with Dosunmu on his last film, 2013’s Mother of George) is smart to let her eyes and her face tell a lot of the story.
This is particularly true in the film’s agonizingly relatable opening sequences, which introduce Kyra as she painstakingly looks after her elderly, debilitated mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). Dosunmu doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant realities of elder care, and he imbues the dimly lit interiors of Ruth’s antiques-laden Brooklyn apartment with a kind of religious solemnity; Kyra’s acts of bathing her ailing mom and pouring the small glass of wine that Ruth has pleaded with her for are framed almost as sacraments. We see evidence of Kyra’s tenderness here, but alongside that, Pfeiffer also silently gets across hints of the frustration and desperation that increasingly come to affect Kyra’s choices.
Life certainly isn’t easy in this opening act, but for Kyra, new to the city and unemployed, her mother is a financial and emotional lifeline that cruelly snaps away when Ruth finally succumbs to her illness. The film follows Kyra’s struggles in the aftermath of Ruth’s death, as she embarks on a futile search for low-paying jobs and strikes up a friendship and tentative romance with her neighbor Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a part-time cab driver who himself is just about scraping by. Kyra is eventually led to less-than-legal means of keeping the lights on, and the film proceeds as an uncommonly forthright look at what neglected, past-their-prime people need to do to survive when society has essentially left them no real path forward.
Where is Kyra? might be too grim and too slow for most audiences, and though the film is both sharp in its observations and aesthetically impressive throughout, it lacks the kind of cathartic moments and reassuringly tidy resolution that might endear it to the average moviegoer. It’s hard to fault a movie for such steadfast consistency of tone, but that does mean that Where Is Kyra? can never hope to reach as many viewers as Pfeiffer’s most iconic performances have. She really is outstanding, here, and this is a much more rewarding effort than the usual case of a former studio-film superstar de-glamorizing herself for a capital-S-serious acting role. Pfeiffer isn’t shooting for the moments of big-scale emoting that (perhaps only) play well as awards-show highlight clips; there’s an introspection and lack of sentimentalizing to this portrayal that are a wonder to observe, and her presence is commanding even at its most understated. She also has a worthy counterpart in Sutherland, who’s charming and sympathetic in the kind of down-to-earth role that he ought to play more often.
It’s ironic, maybe, that Where is Kyra? serves as such a striking resurgence for its lead actress when the film so strongly articulates the hopelessness of its protagonist’s efforts to bounce back. It’s a difficult movie with little in the way of brightness – except, of course, for the still-spellbinding, still-essential actress whose talent radiates from its center.
4 out of 5 stars
Film Review: Where Is Kyra?
Michelle Pfeiffer has a rare, boldly deglamorized lead role in a film that is unfortunately unworthy of her.
Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is literally at her wit’s end, having been downsized from a good job as an accountant and, in the current harsh and ageist market, perpetually unable to find work. Lonely, divorced and saddled with an aged mother (Suzanne Shepherd), she tries everything, including making herself up and dressing in a way to hopefully slice 30 years off her age. When Mom dies, however, she resorts to another disguise: actually impersonating the dead woman in order to collect the pension checks she desperately needs to survive. It’s nothing she’s proud of, that is for sure, and she struggles to conceal it from Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a genial new suitor she meets in a bar between job searching.
If anything, Andrew Dosunmu’s film should be saluted for seriously addressing the current economic crisis affecting so many Americans, which is rarely presented on our screens with such unflinching honesty. Downsized U.S. citizens may not seem the sexiest cinematic theme, but one feels that the public may actually be sick of glossy portrayals of the rich and entitled and truly hungry for films they can relate to and maybe even glean some survival ideas from. Unhappily, although the premise of Where Is Kyra? could have been the springboard for both trenchant social commentary and rich drama, Dosunmu‘s unsureness and faulty sense of pacing make it a dawdling, ineffective bore. He lingers on shots too long and hasn’t much visual sense, as he takes a very literal approach to portraying poverty as an entirely sad and dun-colored prospect, with nary a glimmer of found beauty to be had anywhere. His Brooklyn looks like we are in 1957.
A telling moment occurs in the crucial scene in which Kyra hits absolute rock bottom, doing what she (and, indeed, every New Yorker) feels is the nightmare job of them all: standing on a sidewalk, wearing a sign and shilling. A properly tactful director would have respected his heroine’s humiliation and filmed this degradation subtly, but Dosunmu vulgarly puts Pfeiffer in the star spot, front and center of the screen, facing forward, all the better to savor the miserable spectacle of a fallen superstar in the most inappropriately grandstanding and exploitative way.
Pfeiffer, who was a reigning Hollywood movie queen in the 1980s-90s, has had a very sporadic career of late, and it would be nice to say that this is a major comeback, in a leading role, for her. But there’s not much she can do with the underconceived role and a director who wasn’t much good at helping her fill in the blanks. The film is an unrelenting downer and so, I’m afraid, is she, more mousy than even that classic mouse, Maggie Smith, in that masochistic masterpiece The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearneever dreamt of being. Pfeiffer does have a few fine moments of bracing fury when the walls really close in on her. But watching her slog through this monotonous dirge of a movie, my mind wandered, comparing Kyra, who can’t even land a job as a waitress in a greasy spoon, to Jo Ann, the ultra-glamorous, sportscar-driving owner of a posh restaurant she played in the delectable guilty pleasure that was Robert Towne’s Tequila Sunrise, with the dazzling choice of Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, at their respective juiciest, as her choice of lovers.
I’ve never quite gotten the appeal of Kiefer Sutherland, apart from his adeptness at playing faux everymen. He is completely convincing as a schlubby loser, but audiences deserve some semblance of real charisma from their stars. Opposite Pfeiffer, he is unable to conjure up any romantic charge or true emotional bond that could make you invest in their relationship. This film also had the potential to a be a stirringly effective study of love among the down and out, as with the young and tender Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in Frank Borzage’s A Man’s Castle, or even Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway in Barbet Schroeder’s adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s Barfly, but such is Dosunmu’s ineptitude that it doesn’t happen.
By David Noh | Film Journal International
Edinburgh International Film Festival Reviews
June 22 & 24 (Edinburgh International Film Festival)
Where Is Kyra? (2017) Film Review
It’s interesting to talk about Where Is Kyra? in the light of the recent debate regarding the optimum ‘size’ a film should be watched at, sparked by Dunkirk. While I would argue that good cinema almost always overcomes the limitations of smaller screens – still a fact of life for many living in rural areas, for example – there is no doubt that some gain an extra benefit from being seen on as large a screen as possible, with movies such as Blade Runner springing to mind. Often independent films, with their preponderance of ‘smaller’ more domestic settings and character studies, are viewed as those that lose the least on transferal to a smaller screen. Which brings me back to Andrew Dosunmu’s Where Is Kyra? – a character study that although concerned with a domestic story and mostly shot within confined settings, will be best enjoyed on the biggest screen you can get to see it on.
This is not just because this is, literally, a dark film, with Kyra most frequently glimpsed in shadow or in the dreich half-light of rainy New York, but also because Dosunmu – who has a long career as a photographer – chooses his framing shots with extreme care. It’s a skill in evidence from the start of the film, when he uses a mirror to simultaneously reveal what is happening in two different rooms of an apartment. In one, Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is pouring a bath for her ageing and infirm mum Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), whom we can see in the other. It immediately absorbs us in the day-to-day lives of these women and also intimates that they have come, in some ways, to function as two halves of a whole.
Kyra is down on her luck, having left a job and a marriage behind her, pouring all her energy into looking after her mum and relying on Ruth’s pension to get by, the pair of leaving behind the comforting whisper of Ruth’s oxygen mask in her apartment to haltingly make their way to the local bank, accompanied by the click of Ruth’s walking stick. It may not be idyllic, but it’s something, until the day Ruth dies.
Kyra, in a sense, watches her mum vanish, knowing full well that despite the bright yellow coat she often wears, she too has begun to fade in the attention of the world around her. Dosunmu and cinematographer Bradford Young are ruthless with the camera; although we often only glimpse Kyra, this is a raw and gutsy performance by Pfeiffer – who has been away too long from our screens – with every wrinkle accentuated by the shadows. There is a steel to her desperation but also the weariness of worry and fear of loneliness. The colours, like that coat, only serve to show Kyra in even paler relief, her invisibility coming to offer a welcoming cloak as she hatches a plan to avoid destitution.
Dosunmu keeps the atmosphere oppressive, the jazzy, often discordant score, from Philip Miller, adding to the sense of pain and constant near-panic that is experienced by many struggling with debt. Hopefulness – or at the very least lukewarm comfort – is offered by Doug (Kiefer Sutherland, in a much more blue collar role than we’re used to, but excellent as ever). He’s a middle-aged guy in her apartment block, who is holding down multiple jobs to keep his head above water and who is probably the only person in the film who truly ‘sees’ the other, carefree Kyra, beneath the weight of what she has become.
This is life on a knife-edge and it cuts accordingly.
By Amber Wilkinson | Eye For Film
Edinburgh 2017: Where is Kyra? review
Michelle Pfeiffer delivers one of her best performance in years in Where is Kyra?, director Andrew Dosunmu’s follow-up to Mother of George. It’s a dark, often suffocating character study that revels in misery, barely a hint of levity in sight as a woman spirals into desperation.
Pfeiffer plays Kyra, who lives in a pokey flat in New York City with her ill mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), where they barely exist considering Kyra has been out of work for two years, ever since her marriage ended and she was forced to move back from Virginia. And then Ruth dies, and Kyra, driven by heartache and mounting bills, steeps to new levels of desperation (first in scraping change for wherever possible to committing fraud), all the while developing a relationship with Doug (Keifer Sutherland), who has his own demons to keep under control.
Dosunmu has crafted bleak film about what’s it like to lose everything and not know which way to turn. At one point, Kyra is driven back to Virginia to her ex-husband’s doorstep, begging for any money he can spare, despite the fact he’s now shacked up with another woman and a baby on the way. It’s heartbreaking at times, but also oppressive. There’s darkness around every corner, which takes it toll, making for a film that becomes difficult to engage with on a personal level. Kyra’s struggle is real, but Pfeiffer in the role doesn’t make it wholly convincing, no matter how much she ploughs into the role. For much of the film, she plays dress up, disguised as someone else, but the level of hopelessness Kyra is supposed to be feeling never entirely translates.
But considering she’s been fairly absent from the screen in recent years, it’s a role that displays exactly what Pfeiffer can do. Even if you can’t fully appreciate the plight of her character, there’s no denying her talents, and the small moments of joy come down to her incredible range. Sutherland is also on form her as a man plagued by his own mistakes, the toxic levels Kyra plunges to threatening not only to ruin her chance of a future, but also increasing the chance of ruining what he’s built up since losing everything himself.
Dosunmu recruits Mother of George cinematographer Bradford Young, whose take on New York City presents something different from the usual. It’s seen here as a dark, unforgiving city, the tight close ups trapping Kyra in her own disparity. It’s interesting to see this juxtaposed by the colours she wears, for example the yellow coat, which she latches onto as if it’s her last piece of the successful life she used to had, and so wants back. It may wear too heavy, and not reach the level of empathy from the audience that it’s aiming for, but Where is Kyra? is undeniably stirring and a welcome to return – if not quite a full return to form – for Pfeiffer.
By Jamie Neish | CINEVUE
Michelle Pfeiffer plays against type in this compelling drama
Where Is Kyra? marks Michelle Pfeiffer’s return to the screen since the 2013 crime comedy The Family in what is the most unlikely role of her almost forty-year long career. She plays Kyra, an unemployed divorcee who looks after her elderly mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). However, when Ruth dies, Kyra is unable to pay the rent for the apartment she shared with her. The film follows her desperate attempts to find the money required whilst having almost no one to turn to except Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a sympathetic part-time taxi driver.
Pfeiffer completely convinces as Kyra, effectively conveying the character’s desperation as she fruitlessly trawls shops and restaurants in search of a menial job that will provide at least some money. There is no sense of any Hollywood-style glamour in her performance, with Pfeiffer breaking down into uncontrollable sobs at her mother’s funeral and later handing out leaflets in the pouring rain as well as begging for a loan from her ex-husband. This results in Pfeiffer’s most raw and emotional performance to date, far exceeding the vulnerability she shows in films such as Scarface and Batman Returns. Similarly, Sutherland is also believable as Doug who, like Kyra, has also fallen on hard times with an estranged daughter on the other side of the country, but who manages to maintain his dignity until he becomes involved in one of Kyra’s schemes that draws the attention of the police. Both actors disappear completely into their roles and makes their struggles identifiable, preventing their previous roles and star status from distracting from their performances.
Director Dosunmu portrays Kyra and Doug’s lonely, unforgiving New York home through a use of foreboding shadows and muted, at times almost monochrome, color grading. This staging becomes particularly effective at the film’s climax, where Kyra’s attempts to evade the police using a disguise could come across in the wrong hands as a farcical situation from a Pink Panther film but instead becomes an intense sequence with little to no humour. Dosunmu’s bleak mise-en-scene is aided by Philip Miller’s discordant score, which underlines the mounting chaos and instability of Kyra’s situation and provides this small character-based drama with the unsettling atmosphere of films such as Under The Skin.
Where Is Kyra? is an atmospheric drama showing one woman’s gradual loss of control that features Michelle Pfeiffer’s strongest performance to date.
By Adam Thornton | the wee review
Where is Kyra? (2017) 6/6
A lonely middle aged woman struggles to survive in New York after the death of her dependant mother. The cinematography immediately impacts the film with a sensational use of doorways, mirrors, shadows and sight lines to close in and isolate the lead Kyra, the lingering shots and dark colour palettes symbols of her fading life. Pfeiffer is mesmerising as Kyra, putting in an excellent nuanced performance. The soundscape is incredible with a bold use of music and glaring surreal sound effects. A stunningly executed and important study into the way society isolates women of a certain age.
EdFilmFest: Where is Kyra? Review
There are so many exciting aspects about Where is Kyra? A rising star director in Andrew Dosunmu. Michelle Pfeiffer’s first role in four years, and a serious one at that. The cinematographer is Bradford Young, fresh from his well-deserved Oscar and BAFTA nominations for the exceptional Arrival. All these components should come together to make one hell of a film. 1+1+1=5 right? Wrong, but they certainly come close.
This is, hands down, one of the most gorgeous films of the year, or any year. Young doesn’t just work with frames within frames, he works with openings in those frames within frames. It’s spectacular, and it’s not just an aesthetic gimmick, it fits the film perfectly. Particularly early on as the titular Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) looks after her dying mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) in Ruth’s apartment in Brooklyn. The opening shot is divided into three sections where we can see the mother’s room, the bathroom and the reflection of more space in a mirror. The ballet of movement which takes place within this static scene is utterly mesmerising.
There is a rich depth to the photography, the contrast, shading and mix of fragmented frames or, frames, with lots of empty space creates a hypnotic beauty of even the most tragic of images.
Kyra’s story is indeed tragic. Divorced and jobless, she has moved from Virginia back to Brooklyn to look after her ailing mother. When Ruth suddenly passes, Kyra finds herself without an income and resorts, with much regret, to impersonating her mother to receive her social security cheques. Though she has sunk to such depths there is some hope in her new relationship with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), whose own chequered past seems to offer her an empathy and kinship.
Sutherland is on good form here, lending Doug an emotional reality, sympathy but not without limits, but Pfeiffer is the real star of the show. Kyra is an ambiguous character, at once deserving of sympathy but not above contempt, she knows what she is doing is wrong but struggles to break free from the pattern. Pfeiffer conveys an air of quiet determination yet Kyra is utterly helpless, this is the kind of role she has been waiting for, one she can use to showcase her abilities.
The scene of Ruth’s death is where the Pfeiffer’s performance and Young’s masterful cinematography come together to become a shining example of the essence of cinema. A quiet moment, Pfeiffer reacts to the death in a long, gradually tightening shot. She subtly alters her expression, breathing and posture as the revelations being to pour down on her.
Yet the mundane brilliance and palpable tension of Kyra’s existence is eventually turned into a sort of melodrama, unbefitting the film, disturbing the tranquil waters. The longer her impersonation attempts go on, the less intense the fear and the more absurd they become. It seems like an unnecessarily long plot arc to get to a climactic finale, out of sorts with the slow, building sorrow of her situation.
So, a third act that threatens to undo much of the early work, isn’t enough to ruin a film, it is still an impressive piece of filmmaking. Perhaps it doesn’t quite add up to more than the sum of its parts, but it certainly equals them, and considering this is Dosunmu’s second feature, offers promise.
By Jonathan Glen | front row reviews
EIFF Film review: Where is Kyra?
Following a four-year hiatus, Michelle Pfeiffer makes her acting return taking the titular role in Andrew Dosunmu’s slow-burning drama Where is Kyra? Poverty-stricken Kyra lives in Brooklyn with her elderly ailing mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) and struggles to make ends meet as she hunts for a job. After suffering a loss, she drowns her sorrows in the local drinking den where she meets lowly caretaker Doug (Kiefer Sutherland). The pair make a connection, bonding over their hardship, but Kyra’s desperate need for cash soon leads her to take a treacherous risk.
There is a strong, visually arresting style that comes from acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young’s striking aesthetics, most of the interior shots lit only by lamps to give a melancholy atmosphere that compliments the bleak subject matter. Philip Miller’s score is equally as experimental and goes into an otherworldly overdrive with strange screeching sounds as Kyra’s despair gradually intensifies. These showy filmmaking techniques distract from the paper-thin plot for a while, but the narrative’s painfully meandering pace unfortunately becomes boring and repetitive pretty quickly.
Pfeiffer is well cast as the lead, sporting a harsh and hardened exterior that works as a mask against her inner trauma, and she and Sutherland both make the most of the minimalistic material and sparse dialogue they have to work with. However, the experienced performances can only carry Where is Kyra? so far and there just isn’t enough of a story to captivate throughout.
By Garry Arnot | CinePerspective
BAM CinemaFest Reviews
June 17 (BAM CinemaFest)
‘Where is Kyra’ (2017) B-
When committing to an authentic depiction a life lived in desperation and hopelessness, how thoroughly can you strip away any semblance of light or hope without punishing the viewer? It’s not clear if that question ever crossed Andrew Dosunmu’s mind while making Where is Kyra?, his gorgeous, daunting and draining follow-up to the vibrant, conflicted marital drama of Mother of George. Committed as ever to revealing life on the New York fringes to those who’d rather shield themselves from others’ suffering, some viewers may feel their admiration of Dosunmu’s work wilting into distress as they watch an aging, neglected Michelle Pfeiffer plummet into demeaning obscurity. An empathetic wake up call to the New York elites who can afford to behold it, for viewers who are similarly struggling to maintain their dignity in working class America, Where is Kyra? may simply add up to a suffocating nightmare.
Things are already bleak on the outset of Where is Kyra?, as a trembling, elderly lady slowly lumbers across the frame, unnoticed and ignored by everyone she passes. Back home, we discover life’s perhaps even less forgiving for her daughter and caretaker Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer, petrifying in slim black eye-liner). Recently divorced and still struggling to find employment in the crushing enormity of New York, her lone saving grace is her pension-approved mother, who’s slowly decaying within the dark, gloomy amber enclosures of her apartment. In a jarring establishing shot, we’re introduced to Kyra and her mother, Ruth, in maximum obscurity, only slight slivers of their bodies visible between the cracked doors of their apartment. Even before her mother’s inevitable passing, Kyra is already just as neglected.
Aside from the burgeoning interest of Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), Kyra’s social and business prospects descend ever more quickly once Ruth moves on to, surely, a better place. One humiliating application slip-up after another, every reasonable job opportunity flits out of her grasp. All the while, editor Oriana Soddu brings us repeatedly back to the film’s opening motif, of Kyra’s mother, covered and withered, slowly, excruciatingly making her way across the screen. What seemingly starts as an oppressive omen of the vagabond lifestyle awaiting Kyra eventually reveals itself to be, shockingly, an even more depressing, demeaning future for our crumbling lead. As majestically shot by recent Oscar nominee Bradford Young (Arrival), Brooklyn is a dank, dingy purgatory, draining its inhabitants of every ounce of life, love and dignity they have left.
There’s hardly a dash of levity in Dosunmu’s film, the only fleeting moment of joy, Kyra jump-roping at an apartment complex gathering, being solemnly slowed into a kind of wrenching elegy for the last moments of happiness one feels in their life. Even at 98 minutes, Where is Kyra crawls dourly along with the pace and discipline of a Romanian New Wave film. If there’s any joy to be derived from this crushing experience, it’s in once again getting to watch Michelle Pfeiffer stunningly persevere onscreen. While her face and body may be devastatingly obscured for most of the film, she gets two shining moments, both dark and demanding long takes. Whether she’s explaining how her search has brought her low or we simply see it on her broken, deadening face, Pfeiffer holds our fascination through the musty thicket of Dosunmu’s commanding, if insurmountably challenging, latest.
By Lena Houst | FILM MISERY
A Pfeiffer Portrait of Devastating Despair
The year of Michelle Pfeiffer continues. We’ve seen the trailer and pictures from Murder on the Orient Express. We’ve seen the poster for mother! (sacrilege she’s not on it). We’ve seen her on HBO as Ruth Madoff. And now her Sundance film, Where is Kyra?, made its way to Brooklyn and played at BAMCinemaFest last weekend.
Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George) collaborates once again with Bradford Young to gorgeous results. This time Pfeiffer’s transfixing visage supplements their beautiful frames with movie star magic…
The story follows Kyra, a 50-something out of work recent divorcee who’s falling into a pit of hopelessness. She can’t find work and her elderly mother, on whose pension she relies, suddenly dies. She meets another person trying to stay afloat (Kiefer Sutherland) and even genuine affection and companionship does not seem to help either of them. It’s a devastating story of utter despair and the crazy choices it forces on Kyra.
Dosunmu said that he was inspired by Cindy Sherman, and every frame is a tableau come to sumptuous life. And in Pfeiffer’s face he’s found the perfect vessel. Whole scenes play just on her face even when other actors are present in the scene. It’s intimate yet unsettling because of the melancholic story. I was the beat up little seagull watching this. It was hard to watch because Pfeiffer makes one root hard for Kyra even as she makes one disastrous choice after another. The film hits close to home. We could all become Kyra, suddenly too old to find employment. So I was grateful for the one homage to Pfeiffer’s stardom, a slo-mo scene of her joyfully jumping rope with a few kids.
Unfortunately the film does not have a US distributor yet. We can understand why. This is the type of movie that luxuriates in the ritual of preparing a bath and devotes many minutes to taking it in. But come on, it’s Pfeiffer. It’s Pfeiffer in almost every frame. It can be marketed just as that. Many will be there opening weekend for her. Don’t deny us this movie, money people.
By Murtada | the FILM EXPERIENCE
Where is Kyra? at BAM Cinemafest
I cannot get the film Where is Kyra? out of my mind. I saw it on Saturday night as part of the BAM Cinemafest programme, and it had been one of the films I wanted to see at Sundance earlier this year, but just couldn’t make the scheduling work out. I’m learning more and more that things happen when they need to, so it seemed like Saturday’s screening was the right time to catch the film.
I went with my friend Mathoto Matsetela, who was once an actress in Yizo Yizo, the critically-acclaimed youth drama series Andrew Dosunmu used to direct when he was in South Africa. The Nigerian-born director has since then cemented his reputation, based here in the US, with Restless City and Mother of George – films that paint vivid portraits of identity and desperation, through his fruitful collaboration with cinematographer Bradford Young. For Where is Kyra? Dosunmu re-teamed with both Young and South African composer Philip Miller, who consistently adds his voice to some of the best films coming out of the country.
I think that’s part of the reason I can’t seem to get the film out of my mind – the music and the images left their mark on me. The sharp, staccato audio illustrations of the lead character’s state of mind, combined with the bleak yet striking way her world is visually composed in the film made quite the impression. It’s the story of a woman in her 50s who returns home to New York to look after her ailing mother, but cannot find a job to survive and is pushed to an utter extreme out of her despair. Michelle Pfeiffer is excellent in this role – Dosunmu told us later it was her first indie part, and they shot the film in 17 days. She gives it so much, immersing herself into a woman, past her so-called prime, whose face has etched into it memories of being married and employed and part of the normal running of life, who now just doesn’t know what to do.
As we go along with Kyra’s job search and the half-hearted relationship that’s unfolding with holding-down-two-jobs Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), we see what it’s like to age in a city that requires non-stop energy to keep going. Dosunmu said he wanted to ask what it’s like to grow old here, in a society where people don’t really honour their elders, and many of them end up being kept pretty much out of sight. It made me think of the old people I see on the streets of NYC, slowly pushing their shopping carts or hobbling from one corner to another. Dosunmu spoke about the cultural differences in how the elderly are perceived in Nigeria, where aging is celebrated, versus what he’s come to see here in the US.
There’s another reason the film struck such a chord. It’s because I’ve come so close to that desperation that I saw in Kyra’s – Pfeiffer’s – eyes. Living in this city, where I’m a freelancer subject to the whims of whenever people see fit to pay my invoices has put me in many a tough financial situation, and it’s a terrible feeling. I’ve never had to resort to Pfeiffer’s methods but she and Dosunmu touch that nerve so closely that it’s unsettling. Luckily, I still have enough energy to keep bouncing from my setbacks. Dosumnu’s film will no doubt inspire empathy and a little more compassion towards those who perhaps don’t.
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:
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
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