With “Always Shine” Director Sophia Takal has fashioned a subtle/not so much so really treatise on the too frequently vicious dynamic among women consumed by envy-infested competition. While this twisted story of two young actresses plays out in progressively amped-up stages, the soft impact denouement leaves one with the feeling of “So what the hell is the thrust?”
Mackenzie Davis (building on her impressive turn in 2015’s quiet gem “A Country Called Home”) is Anna and Caitlin Fitzgerald (Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”), Beth, whose friendship is frayed as the latter’s career has progressed more successfully than has her gal-pal’s. Beth is a demure, submissive wall flower. Her non-threatening demeanor stands in stark contrast to that of Anna, who is a full-force in your face boss bitch. In an effort to repair and recoup, the pair head out of L.A. for a weekend together at a spacious family cabin in Big Sur. May the fireworks begin. And, boy, do they ever.
Practically right from the get-go there is a palpable undercurrent of barely repressed tension between the two girls. Takal creates and sustains a venomous vibe here, ratcheting it up by means of rapid fire subliminal suggestion editing from Zach Clark and a consistently discomforting music under bed supplied by Michael Montes, all coming together with wicked ferocity to inject intensely ominous pulsations of alarming foreshadowing.
Lawrence Michael Levine (Takal’s husband who also appears in the film) has composed a story heavy in it’s apparent message that the fairer of the sex’s is painfully complicit in consistently falling victim to the predatory machinations of men, particularly in the conform or be cast out world of Hollywood. And to this end, you will no doubt note that Takal teasingly, and quite purposefully, tantalizes her audience with, yet never completely gives in for even a split second to, gratuitous nudity involving her comely co-stars. (No, sir. Not in this chick’s flick, buster.)
Levine takes the driving theme to expressly existential places, such as in a scene where the anger-afflicted Anna aggressively challenges a guy who is participating in a “Men’s Retreat”, asking him if a similar event comprised of women would meet with a comparative degree of acceptance and embracement. The writer’s point is certainly a potent one, if not overplayed across all manner of societal discourse, both public and private. The premise of the female gender as historically and unconscionably under appreciated, minimized and even nullified stands firmly on it’s own, and demands no call for validation from me nor anyone else. However, the “solution” to the issue as proposed in Levine’s script is as demoralizing as it is simplistic. Not to the alarming degree of severity we come to realize in “Always Shine”, obviously. But in essence, and from a euphemistic perspective, is this, then, the only way matters can ever truly be settled? Don’t we, most of us of reasonably pragmatic sensibility leastways, believe that women as a community of spirit and souls are far better, and one whole helluva lot stronger, than that? Lord, let’s hope so.
I was looking for, and fully expecting, a more jarring conclusion than Takal opts to give us in the final moments of “Always Shine”. Still, such as it is, these lyrics from the Talking Heads satirical classic rocker “Once in a Lifetime” initially sprung to mind for me: “My God!! What have I done??!!“
But then, as the screen cut abruptly to black and the credits rolled, a very different, perhaps even more troubling, interpretation occurred to me: Is it all merely, and in faithful accord with the overarching nature of the narrative, “just an act”?
Things are far from bright in "Always Shine".
- Acting - 7/107/10
- Cinematography - 8/108/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 7/107/10
- Setting/Theme - 8/108/10
- Recyclability - 7/107/10
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