Where is Kyra? Theatrical Reviews (New York/ LA)
Released in the New York on April 6, 2018 and expanded across the country on April 12, 2018
‘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