Where Is Kyra? (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Her slow descent to another bottom
Watching “Where Is Kyra?” is akin to observing a slow, irreversible descent. No matter how much its heroine tries, it is quite clear that she is destined to hit another bottom in one way or another, and the movie is often unsparing as steadily focusing on her despairing human condition. This is not a very pleasant sight to say the least, the movie works as an engaging character study at least, and it is also quite compelling at times thank to the strong acting from its dependable lead performer.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Kyra Johnson, a middle-aged divorced woman who has lived with her ailing mother for a while in a Brooklyn neighbourhood since she lost her job. During the opening scene, the camera calmly watches Krya washing her mother during one night, and we come to see how much they have been depending on each other. Kyra’s mother is glad to have someone taking care of her, and Kyra feels fine and comfortable in her mother’s small but cozy apartment although she is well aware of that she cannot depend on her mother’s meager pension forever.
She certainly tries to get a job as soon as possible, but things have been quite difficult for her. During one early scene in the film, it initially looks like she will get a small office job, but she unintentionally gives a bad impression to her potential employer, who says he will think over whether he will hire her but does not call her later. She keeps trying, but she fails again and again, and we sense more despair and frustration accumulated behind her hardened façade.
And then her mother dies on one day. The funeral is soon held, and we observe how much Kyra is lonely and helpless as being without her mother. Except her ex-husband and the maintenance man of the apartment building, nobody comes to her for showing condolence, and then she soon comes to face a serious financial matter. While she has to pay for the funeral, she also has to pay the rent, but she still remains unemployed as before, and she may be evicted from her apartment because of that.
She eventually comes to lower her standard a bit, but the circumstance does not change much for her. She manages to get a meager part-time job, but she does not get hired and then paid everyday. At one point later in the story, she attempts to get hired as a waitress in a shabby restaurant, and it seems she actually has a chance this time, but, alas, some other girl is hired instead of her in the end.
As Kyra sells furnitures and some other things for the money she needs, her apartment becomes more barren than before. She cuts off the heating of her apartment because she cannot simply afford it, and the resulting bleak mood further accentuates her desperate situation. What was once an insulating place for Krya and her mother now feels like a stark pit of despair and hopelessness, and the cinematographer Bradford Young, who was recently Oscar-nominated for “Arrival” (2016), did a fabulous job of establishing the gloomy sense of isolation and desperation on the screen via dim lights and dark shadows.
At least, she gets some consolation from Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a nice guy whom she encounters at a local bar during one night. As they spend more time together, they come to sense something mutual developed between them, and Kyra feels a little better as later finding herself on his bed. However, while less desperate than her in comparison, Doug also struggles to maintain his life everyday, and there is nothing much he can do for her when she happens to get the eviction notice from her landlord.
In the meantime, the movie slowly reveals what Kyra has been doing behind her back in the name of survival. I will not go into details on that here, but I can tell you instead that Pfeiffer is fabulous in her nuanced low-key acting which is surely one of the best works in her career. Although she has been less notable during recent years, Pfeiffer, who made a big impression on me when I happened to watch “Batman Returns” (1992) along with my younger brother during one summer day of 1992, demonstrates here that she is still an actress of considerable talent and presence as before, and the movie is often devastating as she wordlessly expresses her character’s thoughts and feelings in front of the camera.
Around Pfeiffer, the supporting performers in the movie acquit themselves well in their respective roles. While Kiefer Sutherland, who is far less intense compared to his acclaimed performance in TV drama series “24”, gives a solid performance as a guy who sincerely wants to try to help a woman he loves, Suzanne Shepherd is convincing in her scenes with Pfeiffer, and Babs Olusanmokun holds his own small place as the maintenance man of the apartment building.
“Where Is Kyra?” is the third feature film of director/co-writer Andrew Donsumu, who previously directed “Restless City” (2011) and “Mother of George” (2013). Although I have not seen these two previous works of his yet, “Where is Kyra?” shows me that Donsumu is a talented filmmaker, and I admire what he and Pfeiffer achieve in this small but interesting character drama. As I told you before, it is not exactly entertaining, but it is worthwhile to watch thanks to the considerable skills and efforts put into the film, and you will not forget it easily once you watch it.
Review: Where is Kyra?
There is undeniable beauty in every frame of director Andrew Dosunmu’s third feature film, Where is Kyra?. Most are courtesy of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival), who unearths breathtaking majesty in penumbral light, sepulchral shadows, and bleak silhouettes. At the center of it all is Michelle Pfeiffer, one of cinema’s great beauties, delivering a performance of devastating power and melancholy. If you’ve forgotten what a tremendous talent Pfeiffer is, Where is Kyra? is here to remind you in no uncertain terms of her prowess.
One of the many remarkable things with the film is how it subverts the usual star vehicle. This is not a film in which every scene serves the star, but rather in which the star serves every scene or, more specifically, the mise-en-scène. When not forcing her in the fringes or framing her from a distance, the camera is unrelentingly and unmercifully trained on her face and Pfeiffer, the modern-day Garbo, conveys multitudes with the most minute movement. Even in these close-ups, the first of which is teasingly withheld, Pfeiffer’s Kyra feels like she’s about to materialise into nothing and with good reason. Kyra is, like the recurrent shot of an old woman with a cane slowly walking on the street, a woman invisible to a society trained to overlook women once they are past a certain age.
Divorced, unemployed for the past two years, she spends most of her time caring for her ailing mother (Suzanne Shepherd), who only ever seems to go outside in order to cash her disability checks. When her mother finally passes, Kyra is beset by desperation as she pounds the pavement in search of a job, any job, to keep her afloat. The bulk of the film is essentially watching and feeling the noose tighten around Kyra’s neck as the heating goes, the phone is cut off, the threat of eviction looms, and the debts continue to pile up to such a degree that she forces herself into a corner from which there is no escape. Amidst the demoralising hopelessness, Kyra finds a modicum of happy relief with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a guy she meets at a bar who holds down several jobs and who has just gotten his life somewhat together.
With such endless gloom and doom, one would think that Where is Kyra? would be a miserable viewing experience. Yet the grimness never gets oppressive or off-putting; the film remains a compelling watch thanks to the outstanding visuals and Pfeiffer’s haunting and heartbreaking portrayal of a woman with little to begin with and whose remaining options are dwindling by the second.
Where Is Kyra? Blu-ray
Beat-up Little Seagull / Kyra / Blu-ray + Digital HD
What a sad, depressing movie, but also a beautiful movie. Director Andrew Dosunmu, a Nigerian filmmaker whose background is in music videos, has crafted a dark, unsettling, unwelcoming picture about life’s struggles and an older woman’s inability to climb out of personal darkness and a financial hole in a cold, distant, modern society in which the only help most can offer is a polite word of encouragement. “We’ll call you if anything comes up.” “I’m sorry, the position has been filled,” title character Kyra is repeatedly told throughout the film. Her namesake film is visually bleak and tonally dour, but it’s a gripping tale of pain and fear when what little money remains dries up and worry becomes legitimate fear for the future. The film offers no answers except advice to avoid the wrong answers. And, perhaps for some people, there are no longer any answers except for the wrong ones.
Kyra Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a middle-aged single woman who still lives with her elderly mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) who requires near constant care. Kyra has recently had little to show for her life, but she has a roof over her head a place to sleep as the pair live off of Ruth’s pension checks. But Kyra’s source of income dries up when her mother passes away of old age. Kyra finds herself scraping together whatever she can to keep the lights on, resorting to looking for dead-end jobs (for which there is always a prettier or younger and more able-bodied person to fill it) and sleeping in the cold just to make ends meet. One day, she meets Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a man with whom she begins a sexual relationship and who is her only escape from life’s pains. But she remains desperate, so desperate that she dresses as her mother, dons cover-up sunglasses, and fraudulently cashes the pension checks, which are still coming in. Despite Doug’s warnings and her own better judgment, she continues the practice and prays that she avoids being caught.
Andrew Dosunmu and Cinematographer Bradford Young, who also shot the fairly dark Arrival, craft the movie with such an absence of light as to almost make several scenes impossible to see. But the unrelenting darkness is a tool, an emotional bludgeon that reinforces the story’s themes and the character’s despair. It also keeps focus on ideas. The film often lingers on a shot, usually one of some distance between the camera and the characters. In another film there would be a disconnect with the audience when characters speak behind an obstruction, in shadow, or off to an extreme corner. But here it conveys intimacy, in a way, intimacy in necessarily drawing the viewer into the character’s psyche, a portal which is never closed by any distracting externalities. It takes little time for the viewer to feel fully engaged in Kyra’s misery and involved in her pursuit of funds to simply live another day. The movie pushes its ideas hard, but it is one of extremes, one in which its character’s dire life position is the focal point. There is little context and no build-up. Audiences are occasionally privy to glimpses into Kyra’s past: she’s a divorcee but little else is revealed or even implied about who she is. Everything in the movie supports the hopelessness of her present, and things grow so bad and so dangerous for her that one almost hopes she is found out if only because living as she lives is really no life at all.
Michelle Pfeiffer, who can sometimes barely be seen in the movie, shines as the increasingly desperate and hopeless loner. Her mother’s death is not a trigger for a major emotional response but it is certainly the beginning of a dark and downward spiral that slowly robs her of hope as she comes to realize that the world has passed her by, that her prospects are not just dwindling but are instead gone. She finds temporary comfort and hope and eventually a cohort in Doug, a man nearly as mysterious as Kyra, whose life and finances are a little more stable but he’s otherwise not all that different from his new girlfriend. But this is Pfeiffer’s movie to carry, and she does so with impressive dedication to dourness, to conveying the sadness, fear, and uncertainty that follow her and come to define her. This is a difficult movie to watch, visually and thematically alike. It’s not rewarding in the traditional sense but it is a well crafted peek into a readily declining and deteriorating life for a person whose existence necessarily revolves around what little money she can acquire. It does make her world go ’round until there’s not enough to keep her in motion and on the straight and narrow any longer.
Where Is Kyra? Blu-ray, Video Quality (4 of 5)
Where Is Kyra? is, of course, an exceedingly dark movie, tonally and texturally alike. Blacks are a little elevated in spots and trace levels of banding and macroblocking are visible in some of the more absorbing darker corners, but the Blu-ray handles the relentlessly low light material fairly well. Much of the film is lit by warm, low wattage light bulbs nestled under a shade off to the side, illuminating a portion of the frame but falling off the further away it is, until much of the picture is in dense shadow where only basic outlines are visible. Some night city shots reveal punchy neons and lit signage, and a handful of daytime exteriors enjoy a nice escape from the heavy-handed darkness, but even then the palette appears fairly muted and not all that substantial. Still, saturation is largely fine within the movie’s constraints. Texturally, the movie lacks much of interest or visual intensity; everything is lost to the low light. Details, then, are only as sharp as they are visible, but basic skin and clothing details, as well as odds and ends in Kyra’s and her mother’s home and in various other locales around the city, find enough essential sharpness and clarity to please. This is not a movie to watch for intense visual delights; the picture is as absorbing as the movie, and even if it’s nothing to look at, the complimentary but overwhelming tone presents just fine on Blu-ray.
Where Is Kyra? Blu-ray, Audio Quality (4.5 of 5)
For such a dark movie, one night expect Where Is Kyra?‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack to be one of minimal and reserved activity, but quite to the contrary it produces some solid and intensive elements throughout. A few organic environmental effects inside the apartment create a necessary sonic signature for the place, such as light passing traffic in the exterior distance or, more close by, Rose’s hissing oxygen tank. Local city-flavor environmental sounds are more pronounced outside. A rumbling train, blowing wind, and rain yield strong clarity as well as good width and a fair bit of depth. A burst of industrial, deep and dense and clanking music bursts into the stage 22 minutes in, immediately following the film’s title card. Such sounds return occasionally thereafter to punctuate dangerous moments in Kyra’s fraud. Dialogue is generally quiet but clear with steady front-center placement.
Where Is Kyra? Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras (0 of 5)
Where Is Kyra?‘s Blu-ray release contains no supplemental content. A Movies Anywhere digital copy code is included with purchase. This release does not appear to ship with a slipcover.
Where Is Kyra? Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation (3 of 5)
Where Is Kyra? offers a sobering snapshot of a destitute and desperate woman in the modern world. Kyra has lost everything she loves, must part with her possessions, and resort to fraud just to keep a spark of hope alive in her life. It’s a dour film with little escape from its grim façade or narrative, but the performances are enthralling and the film is captivating through its dark portrait of hopelessness. Universal’s Blu-ray is featureless, but video is fine under the film’s dark and unforgiving visual constraints. The 5.1 lossless soundtrack rises in intensity and excellence as the situation demands. Recommended.
Film Review: “Where Is Kyra?”
The title of the indie drama “Where Is Kyra?” couldn’t be more appropriate. After its original shooting finished up in January 2016, the film premiered one year later at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews only to retreat back into the shadows for another 18 months, landing quietly in the overcrowded landscape they used to call “direct to video.” Not the most ceremonious of debuts for the powerful comeback of a former marquee name, but perhaps fitting for its grim subject matter and deliberately obscured presentation.
“Where Is Kyra?” stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Kyra Johnson, a divorced New Yorker who lives with her ailing mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), in a small Brooklyn apartment and splits her time between playing caregiver and unsuccessful attempts to find employment. When Ruth passes away, a paperwork error results in her social security checks continuing to arrive, but Kyra quickly learns that the bank won’t cash them without her mother’s permission. As her financial situation becomes increasingly destitute, Kyra resorts to impersonating Ruth in order to keep money coming in hopes that one of the many job applications finally comes through.
Desperation is familiar territory for director Andrew Dosunmu, whose previous feature, 2013′s “Mother of George,” concerned a Nigerian newlywed named Adenike (Danai Guirira) whose struggles with infertility lead to a shocking decision that threatened to tear her entire family apart. Given that Adenike’s value in that story seemed to be predicated solely on the role of motherhood, it’s no wonder that screenwriter Darci Picoult and cinematographer Bradford Young went on to work with Dosunmu again on “Kyra,” a character whose existence as a childless woman pushing 60 was of little concern or consequence in a world that offered little reward for failing to adhere to the established template.
Such a part must have been attractive to Pfeiffer, last seen in the poorly-received 2013 Luc Besson crime ensemble “The Family” and having not appeared in a leading role since Stephen Frears’ period drama “Chéri” back in 2009. Like many women in her profession, once Pfeiffer hit her 40s, the mother roles started coming in, and the variety of opportunities once available to her began to narrow. With age comes wisdom, experience, and maturity, but Hollywood has a long tradition of keeping that sort of power in check by suddenly running out of stories to tell that center around female characters if they can’t fit into a one-dimensional supporting role in a romantic comedy.
The thing about Kyra is that she’s clinging to what little power she has, be it in the form of new love interest Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a cab driver she meets after spending her last bit of cash at the local bar, or her disturbingly nuanced efforts in donning her deceased mother’s wig and layers of her clothing in order to hobble around on a cane to and from the bank once a month to commit what is most definitely a crime against the United States government. Just like Kyra, Pfeiffer is more than willing to play the part, because Ruth wasn’t just some old lady that the world discarded because it no longer had a use for her, and she gives it her all, unglamorous as it may be.
It’s the space Picoult and Dosunmu allow for between the words and scenes of “Where Is Kyra?” that puts us on the inside of what we’re seeing, supporting the character in such a bizarre course of action because we are, in effect, living in the same world. Young’s signature camera work, recalling the radical economy of light employed by Gordon Willis in “The Godfather,” breaks down the stylized familiarity of the typical film look, forcing us into the same darkened corners Kyra inhabits and keeps us there with her. Though muted, understated, and at times out of focus, the movie does have power, beauty, and relevance, and is just as deserving to be seen as anything else.
“Where Is Kyra?” is now available on streaming rental and digital download.
By Andrew Shearer, Online Athens
Michelle Pfeiffer incursiona en su primer filme independiente
“Where is Kyra?” le permite a la actriz dar una actuación “refrescante”
El regreso de Michelle Pfeiffer a las películas de superhéroes con su participación clave en “Ant-Man and the Wasp” es acompañado por el estreno en las plataformas de streaming, VOD y DVD de “Where is Kyra?”, su primer rol protagónico en 11 años y su primera incursión en cine independiente.
El nuevo filme del director Andrew Dosunmu funciona como una antítesis a la mayoría de los filmes comerciales de Hollywood. Su personaje titular vive una crisis y la colaboración entre el director y la actriz logran que sea un laberinto de desesperación.
Las tácticas experimentales de la dirección le permiten a Pfeiffer dar una de las mejores interpretaciones de su carrera.
Kyra está perdida entre la desolación y las tinieblas de alguien que ha llegado al final de su quinta década de vida con un futuro financiero incierto. Al principio del guion de Darci Picoult, el público ve a un personaje que pasa sus días cuidando a su madre, extremadamente frágil de salud, y que trata de poner su vida en orden. Las heridas emocionales de su divorcio han sido empeoradas por tener que enfrentar la realidad de que ya está muy vieja para la mayoría de los empleos que solicita. La situación de Kyra empeora con la muerte de su madre, evento que la deja completamente desamparada económicamente. Consumida por sus miedos y frustraciones, la protagonista intenta sobrevivir tomando acciones que tienen consecuencias trágicas.
Durante toda su carrera, la mayoría de los logros histriónicos de Pfeiffer han vivido bajo la sombra de su belleza. En este filme, la dirección arriesgada y atípica logra que quede liberada su carisma y prueba su poder para desnudar el alma de su personaje frente a las cámaras sin tener que decir ni una sola palabra.
El trabajo de la actriz y los virajes fuertes del guion provocan que este filme sea una prueba para cualquier espectador. Cada “close up” que acerca el espectador le da un vistazo efímero a una mujer que desde hace mucho tiempo decido que había fracasado. Dosunmu y Pfeiffer convierten la historia de Kyra en una tragedia moderna con un final en el extremo opuesto de las fantasías escapistas de Hollywood.
By Juanma Fernández París, Elnuevodia.com
“I’m No Spring Chicken”
“I’m no spring chicken!” quips Kyra late in this film. She struggles to get work two years after losing her job, at which she was supposedly quite successful, and now she toils the demoralizing grind of unemployment. Few people, unfortunately, want an overqualified woman with wrinkles on the payroll. Pfeiffer dives deeply into this character study that demands every inch of her maturity as an actress. It’s a quietly powerful and immersive performance—one of Pfeiffer’s most surprisingly turns and arguably one of her strongest.
This deceptively simple film casts Pfeiffer as Kyra, a woman stripped of her ability to smile and enjoy life by the unexpected turn of her fate. She scrapes the barrel handing out résumés for jobs that high school kids could do, settling far beneath her skill set when she should be readying to retire. Kyra lives with her mom, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), in a drab and dark apartment that sees little joy or warmth. Taking care of Ruth might not be glamorous, but it gives Kyra purpose and she’s a decent caregiver from the action one sees in the drawn out observational scenes that writer/director Andrew Dosunmu presents.
However, when Ruth dies suddenly, Kyra kicks into fight or flight mode. Pfeiffer masks Kyra’s unhappiness with a brave face and carried self-assurance. She remembers the tips from her high school careers class and displays all the dos and don’ts job seekers glean from LinkedIn. Yet there is tragic vulnerability to Kyra’s desperate smiles. Without her mother, without a family, and without a job, she realizes that her life has no identifiable purpose.
Kyra gets a few lucky breaks, though, when a handsome stranger at the bar (Kiefer Sutherland) comes to her aid when she can’t pay her tab. The natural warmth of Sutherland’s screen sharpens the glow of Pfeiffer’s cold and enigmatic turn as Kyra remains guarded, as closed off as her dank apartment, when Doug invites intimacy and connection. (People skills aren’t Kyra’s forte.)
Break the second comes in the form of a pension cheque, made out, as always, to Ruth. It might not be much, but it’s something, so Kyra’s desperation drives her to cross the point of no return. She impersonates her mother to cash the incoming cheques. The feebleness with which Pfeiffer carries herself as Kyra dons her mother’s clothes and shuffles about with her cane is a heartbreaking reminder of this woman’s own fragility.
Kyra’s desperation is difficult to watch, yet it’s compelling as Dosunmu and Pfeiffer completely nail the emotionally exhausting grind of unemployment. There are few feelings quite as hellishly awful as putting oneself on the line day after day only to face a constant cycle of rejection. Pfeiffer’s understated turn captures the pain of being chronically unemployed as she personifies is a soul-crushing emptiness that comes with the realization that it makes little difference to anyone if you get out of bed in the morning.
Dosunmu keeps viewers at a distance from Kyra, favouring long lingering shots of cold shadows. Cinematographer Bradford Young opts for palettes of unrelenting bleakness as if the camera and Pfeiffer have an unspoken agreement never to smile. Dosunmu’s style makes for demanding viewing, and one has to do a little soul searching when one’s life is as dark as Kyra’s is. The obtuse compositions of Where is Kyra?, while painstakingly framed, don’t let one get close to the subject, but they often obscure the greatness of Pfeiffer’s performance, too. Where is Kyra? could be an even better showcase for Pfeiffer if Dosunmu and Young simply offered more shot variety to emphasize the drama, rather than the dire surroundings, and let the actress shine. Every shot is awful in its own particular way and the dark shadows of Where is Kyra? overwhelm the film just a bit too much.
There are moments, like Kyra’s “no spring chicken” speech, when the director and cinematographer take more interest in Pfeiffer’s face than in her character’s wood panelling. The most potent drama of Where is Kyra? plays out on Pfeiffer’s face and it’s in these scenes that the film has is shattering in with power that recalls Kristin Scott Thomas’s own age-defying reinvention in I’ve Loved You So Long. It seems that the team doesn’t quite grasp what they have on the hands with Pfeiffer and that’s a shame. Perhaps only Pfeiffer appreciates the unspoken irony of the film as she plays a woman in her golden years that nobody knows what to do with. It’s odd to call Where is Kyra? a comeback, but Pfeiffer doesn’t care if she’s a spring chicken. She’s still laying golden eggs.
Where is Kyra? is now available on home video after being unceremoniously dumped in Canada without so much as a theatrical release or festival run.
By Pat Mullen, Cinemablographer
Redboxing: WHERE IS KYRA?
And why isn’t anyone talking about her movie?
There was a time when a movie like Where Is Kyra?, the newest offering from Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu, would be a midsize commercial hit. It’s a quiet drama for adults boasting two dependable marquee names (Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland) and gorgeous cinematography from acclaimed DP Bradford Young (Arrival, Selma). It’s a smart and sad story about loss, aging, hopelessness, and desperation. It might not sound like the feel-good hit of the summer, but movies like Where Is Kyra? have been sorely missed in our mainstream landscape since the billion-dollar tentpole model took over. Instead of getting a wide release, Where Is Kyra? premiered out of competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, saw a limited theatrical run, and came to home video and streaming platforms on July 3rd. This feels unjust, but since I almost reviewed Tara Reid’s Bus Party to Hell this week, I’ll instead consider it a reward from the Redboxing gods for my endless devotion to their cause. Where Is Kyra? is a remarkable surprise, one of my favorite movies of the year.
Kyra Johnson (Pfeiffer) is in dire straits. The middle-aged divorcee is unemployed and under-qualified, relying solely on her bedridden mother’s (Suzanne Shepherd) pension to survive. In her best business attire — all of it a little worn, a little too small — Kyra shuffles from one unsuccessful job interview to the next. Typing, filing, waitressing, really anything will do, but no one’s biting. “I’m looking every day. There’s nothing out there,” she repeats to herself and anyone who gives her guff. “I’m not exactly a spring chicken.” It’s a brutal reality made even worse when her mother finally passes away. Now truly alone, Kyra is reduced to selling off her furniture and handing out flyers for minimum wage (“and praying I still have that tomorrow,” she says to her ex-husband [Sam Robards] when she begs him for cash). All seems lost until Kyra discovers that a clerical error is keeping her mother’s pension checks coming even after her death. With the help of Doug (Sutherland), Kyra decides to impersonate her mother to stay afloat.
As much as this may sound like the setup for a heartwarming slapstick comedy, there’s nothing zany or madcap about Kyra’s scheme. She and Doug — who’s equally down-and-out, working several part time jobs and using alcohol to cope with the loss of his family — feed on each other’s stress and anguish as they spiral toward destruction. Their awkward flirtation gives way to a toxic codependency: Minutes after scolding Kyra for lying to him, Doug is helping her put on her mother’s oxygen mask and lying to detectives about his role in her life. He knows better, but what choice does he have? What else is he doing to better himself? The walls are closing in on both of them, they know, and neither harbors any delusion about escaping their lot. They only hope to inch along enough to live to fight another day. Again, this makes Where Is Kyra? sound like a miserable viewing experience, but anyone who’s ever counted the change in their piggy bank or paid for a sandwich with a credit card will empathize with its message.
The movie’s visual palette is even more immersive. Dosunmu and Young embrace stillness and shadow, emphasizing natural lighting and a cold, indifferent frame that feels off-center and uncomfortable at times, almost as if the movie knows it’s peeking in on something it shouldn’t be. Editor Oriana Soddu follows suit: interactions between characters rarely go into conventional coverage, instead staying on Pfeiffer as she struggles through a tortured close-up or on the space around her (sometimes wide and barren, sometimes oppressively claustrophobic) as she tip-toes her way through it. This is rarely showy, though, and even the most off-kilter shots manage to not draw attention to themselves. Phillip Miller’s soundtrack compliments the visuals by pairing eerie, discordant notes (reminiscent of 2017’s mother!, also starring Pfeiffer) with long and haunted silences that become completely unbearable during the movie’s tenser moments. Conventional wisdom tells us that motion pictures are supposed to, well, move, but Where Is Kyra? proves that the stillest of frames can bore into our memory just as effectively.
None of this would matter if not for Michelle Pfeiffer’s stellar lead performance, which (again) would be getting serious buzz had this been a mainstream release. Kyra is anxious, tired, and in over her head. She’s doing everything right, she maintains – smiling at potential employers, filling out the appropriate forms, and making solemn promises to her landlord that she needs just One More Week. We like Kyra; we feel her pain when — after acing an interview — she knocks over a pencil cup and bends down to reveal her unzipped skirt (like everything in her wardrobe, it’s too small). She’s ashamed, embarrassed. She’s inches short of every opportunity, and she’s starting to come unhinged. There’s a grim meta quality to watching one of the biggest female movie stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s lament the absence of suitable “roles” to play in middle age, and the fact that she’s forced to dress as her much older mother to survive (women in Hollywood are either 25 or 75) almost tips the movie over into black comedy. Kyra makes terrible choices, but they’re the only ones she has.
Despite all the possible textual interpretations, Where Is Kyra? manages to avoid sweeping or preachy statements about the decaying American Dream or a lone woman’s place in a cruel and unforgiving modern economy. Dosunmu and co-screenwriter Darci Picoult (who also collaborated on 2013’s Mother of George) keep the story and tone grounded, letting the audience do the work as they see fit. The movie doesn’t judge Kyra, even when its characters do. It doesn’t tell us how to feel about her or insist that she’s been unfairly treated by the System. No one thinks about the System when they’re haggling for an extra $10 for yet another precious family heirloom. No one researches sentencing guidelines when they’re forging their dead mother’s identity to pay down four months of overdue rent. Where Is Kyra? has no illusions about the world or the people in it, and we should expect nothing less than the truth, however cold and unforgiving that truth may be.
By Rob DiCristino, F THIS MOVIES!