Seldom do films get the complexities of female relationships right, but “What Lies West” nails it on every possible level. Writer and director Jessica Ellis has tapped into something deep within her feminine psyche to create a realistic, authentically developed female friendship. This low budget coming-of-age drama is unpolished and sometimes feels a little too organic, but the tiny imperfections add to its overall charm. It didn’t take me long to fall for this one. I adored this movie.
Nicolette (Nicolette Kaye Ellis), an aspiring actress, has just graduated from college and is unsure where her life is headed. Her boyfriend has left her, and she needs money and a job. The only employment she can find in a hurry is working as a sitter for Chloe (Chloe Moore), a shy teenager who is overshadowed by her overprotective and anxiety-ridden mother Anne (Anna Peterson).
The two young women have nothing in common, and at first they don’t get along at all. But as they begin to take walks together outdoors, Nicolette and Chloe discover they really enjoy nature. Desperate to escape the suffocating confines of her house, Chloe plans a secret four day hiking trip through the backroads of Sonoma County, California, with the goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean. With mom away for the weekend, the pair set out with a map, a couple of backpacks, and the determination to reach their goal.
It’s a terrific story that’s presented in a very realistic way. The journey of self-discovery and self-confidence may sound like just another hokey female empowerment movie, but it’s so authentic that it never feels staged. Ellis and Moore have a casual chemistry that drives the heart of the film, and the scenes where the two must face and address their insecurities head-on give off a genuine sense of growth and acceptance.
It’s never easy to navigate your internal stumbling blocks, and it’s even more difficult to accept and eventually overcome them. And that’s one of the themes that “What Lies West” expresses so well. The two female leads may be at different points in their young lives, but the two learn to thrive together. To me, that’s one of the most treasured elements of a true friendship: finding and embracing your own confidence by building on the strengths you see in your bestie. It may sound corny, but this film is anything but.
By: Louisa Moore