The art house crowd should flock to “Where Is Kyra?,” a nuanced character study of an unemployed woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) who once lived a comfortable life and now finds herself teetering dangerously close to the poverty line. The script (by screenwriter Darci Picoult) is stark and so little happens that it’s best not to read anything about the film before you see it. Disclosing even a few details about the plot would constitute major spoilers, but it’s not the story that you need to see: it’s Pfeiffer’s stunning performance.
Kyra’s (Pfeiffer) life is falling apart following the death of her elderly mother. She pounds the pavement every day looking for jobs that are beneath her in old clothing that no longer fits. She begins to sell her mother’s furniture in their already threadbare apartment for small amounts of cash and gets a gig plastering cars with ‘Cash for Gold’ flyers for a couple of days. Within months her phone is shut off and an eviction notice is taped to the door. When an unintentional clerical error creates an unforeseen (and illegal) opportunity for money, Kyra takes advantage despite objections from the friendly neighbor turned boyfriend (Kiefer Sutherland) she met at the local bar.
This is a simple story that’s well told with a knockout performance by Pfeiffer (and an equally commendable supporting one from Sutherland). This raw turn from the lead actress is magnetic in its incredible sadness. Pfeiffer lends an authenticity that’s both physical as well as emotional, from the sense of desperation and her loss of reason to debilitating grief and the cost of aging herself. One particularly heartbreaking and effective scene is when Kyra has no other options and is forced to ask someone who was once a part of her life for any cash they can spare. The camera lingers in what becomes an agonizing close-up of a woman choking back tears in order to preserve what’s left of her personal pride and dignity. When she realizes she’s crossed over has reached the point where she has become invisible to the rest of society, it’ll punch you in the gut (because this is some of Pfeiffer’s best screen work).
This is still a pretentious art house film at heart, which means it comes with its own set of problems. If you didn’t know this film was directed by Andrew Dosunmu you’d swear it was made by Yorgos Lanthimos instead. Many aspects feel like an homage to the Greek director, from the awkward camera pauses and inelegant freeze frames to the deliberately lethargic dialogue delivery and the ear-splitting, spartan soundtrack. The film is plagued by irritating bouts of indulgence as Dosunmu chooses to spotlight scenes of the mundane for far too long. It gets even worse when he also throws in slow motion photography (like the 60 second slo-mo shot of a woman jumping rope) and an original score (by Philip Miller) that isn’t unlike fingernails gradually running down a chalkboard. The ending is disappointing too.
Despite its flaws, this is an incredibly well acted film with gorgeous photography (from cinematographer Bradford Young) and is worth your attention if you’re a fan of distinctive indie dramas and wish to see one of the best performances of the year.