Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Fuller is absorbing in the central role, really giving it her all."

“I can see that you have a special relationship with clothes,” says Randall (Eric Balfour). He has a particular way of talking to women that immediately sets alarm bells ringing, but he also has money and he speaks the language of fashion, language that’s immediately appealing to April (Amanda Fuller). He also knows an addict when he sees one, though at this stage she doesn't understand herself that way. She enjoys clothing and she has increasingly been using it for emotional support when dealing with relationship problems. She hasn't recognised her growing need, or how far she will go to satisfy it.

Eric (Ethan Embry) owns a vintage clothing store. He and April have lived and worked together for some years, but things are not going well: they're struggling financially, he's frustrated with her attempts to discard stock she considers substandard, and she suspects that he's having an affair. When things come to a head, Randall is there, free with money in a way she's barely imagined before, introducing her to a glamorous lifestyle - and to sexual activities she daren't say no to.

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Jumping back and forth in time, and intercut with scenes that don't make sense until the end, Fashionista demands a lot of the viewer but has a lot to offer in return. Director Simon Rumley has attracted the support of Nicolas Roeg and there are many echoes of the master's style in what we see here. As April's obsession with clothes spills over into fantasy and it's less and less clear how much of what we're seeing is real, there are distinct visual and thematic parallels with Performance, which grow stronger towards the end. The shifting identities offered by clothes reflect a deep-seated sense of uncertainty in our heroine, who continually frames herself through the eyes of others. Arguably exploited by both Randall and Eric, she seems unable to recognise well-intentioned support when it's offered, and she becomes isolated by her behaviour as surely as any alcoholic or heavy drug user.

Fuller is absorbing in the central role, really giving it her all. Though April is often unlikeable, she's always fascinating to watch, and her obsession comes across as relatable when a lesser director could easily have rendered it cartoonish. Her increasing confusion means we can't quite be certain if Randall's monstrousness is on the scale it latterly seems to be, but however one interprets it, the film is not short on darkness. It could benefit from being a little shorter and tighter - there is a point at which things threaten to become off-puttingly confusing for the viewer - but striking a balance like that is hard, and it is to Rumley's credit that he has taken on such a challenging project and mostly succeeded. Fashionista marks him out as one of the most intriguing directors to have emerged from the UK in recent years. Its success at Fantasia gives it a good chance of going on to reach wider audiences, and whatever its fate, those with an interest in the artistic potential of the medium will be eagerly awaiting his next work.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2017
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A woman who uses clothes as an emotional crutch discovers her life isn't as ideal as she thought.

Director: Simon Rumley

Writer: Simon Rumley

Starring: Amanda Fuller, Ethan Embry, Eric Balfour, Alex Assoe, Alexandria DeBerry

Year: 2016

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US

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