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WHERE IS KYRA? (2017) review

April 4, 2018

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written by: Andrew Dosunmu and Darci Picoult
produced by: Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa and Rhea Scott
directed by: Andrew Dosunmu
rated: not rated
runtime: 98 min.
U.S. release date: April 6, 2018 (limited)

 

Right away, I found myself commending Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu’s latest film “Where is Kyra?”, simply for including a question mark in the title. I’ve touched on this before, but it annoys me to no end when a movie title is clearly a question, yet has no question mark in it. That causes unnecessary attention to something that ultimately doesn’t matter: a title. What’s interesting about this film’s title is how layered this titular question is the more time we follow how infectious story unfolds. “Where is Kyra?” is Dosunmu’s follow-up to “Mother of George”, a film from 2013 that, like this film, he co-wrote with screenwriter Darci Picoult and, also like that film, focuses on desperate characters in modern-day Brooklyn simply trying to make ends meet, searching for things to go their way.

Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a woman coming out of her middle-aged years divorced and unemployed. It’s been like that for at least a couple years now, but she occupies most of her time caring for her ailing mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), while looking for some type of nearby bookkeeping job she can land. They share a cramped apartment that Ruth has had for a while, living off her disability checks. That is, until Ruth dies one day sitting alone on her couch. When she’s found by Kyra, it takes a while for her to register what has transpired and the ramifications of how this changes things for her.

 

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When Kyra discovers both a snafu and a loophole that allows her to continue receiving her mother’s checks, she figures out a way to cash them out. It’s not legal or right, but in Kyra’s destitute state, still unable to land a job, she doesn’t see a better alternative. She can get away with it because Kyra is a woman in the shadows, slowly falling through the cracks.

No one notices her until she meets Doug (Keifer Sutherland), a nice-guy neighbor who forms a connection with Kyra. At first, it’s because he notices her in a bar, a good-looking women by herself scrounging her purse to pay for a rum and coke. Doug can relate, since he knows what it’s like trying to make ends meet. Unlike Kyra, he holds down a job as an attendant in a nearby nursing home, while driving people to the airport on the side, making enough dough to pay the rent, eat and drink. That’s a success, considering the mistakes he’s made in his past.

The two kindred lost souls develop a relationship, providing a connection they both need, the hesitant Kyra moreso than Doug maybe. They enjoy each other’s company, but Kyra can’t seem to shake her daily dread and passing out flyers in the rain or trips to the local pawn shop, do little to help. As days pass and bills pile up with more job rejections, Kyra falls deeper into the rabbit hole she returns to, further complication her situation and compromising her relationship with Doug.

 

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As the film opens, the camera focuses on a hunched over elderly woman, ambling alongside a street after getting off a bus. Then we see the interior shots of the petite apartment the woman resides with her daughter, warm colors but barely lit with characters in the distance or off to the side, an approach Dosunmu and cinematographer Bradford Young (who lensed Dosunmu’s films in the past and has since worked on “Selma,” “Arrival” and next month’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) commit to throughout the entire film. Sometimes there are close-ups on faces or arms, but most of the film is framed in medium shots or capturing characters from behind who are often in the shadows. Dosunmu, who started out as a photographer, has developed a great working relationship with Young, resulting in each frame of “Where is Kyra?” becoming a surprising work of art.

Pfeiffer and Sutherland are great together as two lost souls who get pulled into a vortex of desperation and Kyra’s repeated bad decisions. They are at ease around each other and match each other’s rawness and anxiety.  As Kyra’s situation becomes more and more dire, Pfeiffer lashes out like a wounded animal, while Sutherland matches her with his own whispered intensity. Considering we’ve seen these two in so many different movies for decades now, it’s a welcome and intriguing thing to see them embody average people and just simply relish roles that doesn’t rely on the kind of parts they’ve played in the past.

The film slowly builds suspense, delivering one nerve-racking and uncomfortable scene after another. One first such scene is when Kyra and Doug are meeting for dinner and he describes how uncanny it was to have seen someone who looks exactly like her mother walk in front of his car earlier that day. The look of horror on Pfeiffer’s face as she mulls over the possibility of her getting found out, is tremendous, as is a scene where a humiliated Kyra approaches her ex (Sam Robards) for money.  Some of these scenes are silent, while others are accompanied by the shrill imbalanced score from composer Philip Miller, another frequent collaborator of Dosunmu, while accentuating the unpredictability of Kyra’s daily life.

This is the kind of film that people will consider a “comeback” for Pfeiffer and to that I say: nonsense. Maybe she hasn’t taken as many roles as others her age over the years, but she’s still been around, especially recently, in films such as “mother!” and “Murder on the Orient Express”, just last fall. She stood out in those two movies and in “Where is Kyra?” she carries the entire film, becoming a haunting and luminous muse for the kind of grim desperation Dosunmu and Young have captured here.

 

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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