Always Shine

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Mackenzie Davis as Anna in Always Shine
"Davis clearly relishes this role and delivers a standout performance, really letting rip."

The old maxim write about what you know has always been problematic, contributing to an interminable number of books about writers and films about the film industry. To get noticed among these crowds, a piece of work has to be brilliant or unusual. Always Shine, a tale of two actresses, doesn't succeed in the former category but strives hard for the latter, and deserves to be congratulated for its boldness.

It opens with scene of a young actress in an audition, reading from a scene in which a woman is relentlessly taunted by a threatening men. This, together with a quote about the importance of women being beautiful, sets the tome for what is to follow. Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) has enjoyed moderate success in Hollywood; she's acting in awful films, but at least she's acting, and getting paid. Sometimes best friend Anna (Mackenzie Davis) has not enjoyed the same good fortune. When they head out of town to spend a weekend together in Anna'a aunt's summer house, the bitterness this has created gradually bubbles to the surface.

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Understandably, Always Shine has elicited comparisons with Alex Ross Perry's Queen Of Earth, but to the extent that it can be said to portray mental illness, the boundaries of that illness are far less clear. It's also more even handed, in that Anna's behaviour becomes overtly aggressive and histrionic but Beth's passive aggression is clearly deliberate and manipulative. It's her superficial passivity, her demure fragility, that seems to be the key to her success. Both women are acutely aware that they are operating in a world controlled by men, but Anna is simply not willing to play the game. An astute scene at a bar highlights the problem. When Anna lashes out at a man who has just told them he's going to a men's retreat, Beth rolls her eyes and the audience is invited to feel bored and frustrated by a familiar rant, so it's all too easy to overlook that fact that the points Anna is making are, for the most part, good ones. If Anna's complaints come to feel ranting, that's because the injustices she experiences are grating on her.

Davis clearly relishes this role and delivers a standout performance, really letting rip. Unfortunately the script isn't consistently strong enough to support her, its artistic ambitions getting in the way of its ability to engage the audience. In the latter third, it breaks down structurally, increasingly revealing itself as a film and thereby commenting on the layers of illusion in Hollywood culture, as well as the delusional coping methods both women have developed. There are interesting ideas here but director Sophia Takal doesn't quite have the skill to carry them off, and instead what we get is a slackening of tension and a weakening of those narrative elements that were holding it together.

Despite good work from both its stars, and some interesting ideas, Always Shine ultimately amounts to less than the sum of its parts. As it's not an easy watch, it really needs to deliver more if it wants to get its points across.

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2016
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Always Shine packshot
Psychological drama about obsession, fame, and femininity follows two friends, both actresses, on a trip to Big Sur, to reconnect with one another.

Director: Sophia Takal

Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Caitlin FitzGerald, Lawrence Michael Levine, Alexander Koch, Jane Adams, Khan Baykal, Colleen Camp, Michael Lowry, Marisa Takal, Mindy Robinson, Robert Longstreet

Year: 2016

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Tribeca 2016

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