Superior

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Superior
"We’re all so used to seeing onscreen twins played by the same actor that there’s something disconcerting about seeing them played by two, especially in a film so concerned with the blurring of identities." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sisters Vivian (Ani Mesa) and Marian (Alessandra Mesa) haven’t seen each other for six years. Vivian is conservatively dressed, happily married, respectably employed. Marian is bleached-blond, leather jacketed, scratching a living as a rock singer, running from something, which brings her back to her home town and Vivian’s door. There she quickly makes herself at home, an unwelcome guest as far as husband Michael (Jake Hoffman) is concerned, slouching around working on her music and making no contribution either to housework or bills. Despite their apparent differences, however, there’s a close bond between the two women, and this animosity sees Vivian increasingly sympathetic to her sister, increasingly alert to all the little frustrations which have been building up in her relationship.

We’re all so used to seeing onscreen twins played by the same actor that there’s something disconcerting about seeing them played by two, especially in a film so concerned with the blurring of identities. It gives each actress more room to focus on her character, which becomes important as the film explores the entanglement of their identities. “You always do this to me. You take my memories,” protests Vivian as Marian recounts a story about getting a bump on her forehead as a teenager. She, however, envies her sister’s freedoms, which leads to them experimenting with swapping identities. Michael remains in ignorance (the film is careful about issues around sexual consent). As Vivian becomes increasingly obsessed by pushing boundaries in Marian’s guise, however, another complication rears its head: Marian’s dangerously jealous ex, Robert (Pico Alexander), who has spent the intervening time trying to track her down.

There’s a late stage shot here with strong echoes of Lost Highway, but in a film framed from the women’s point of view, the connotations are very different. For all its sleekness and wit, however, the film rests a little too heavily on prior work. Its astute commentary doesn’t make up for its own lack of substance. Some relief is provided by scenes in which Vivian works in an ice cream shop, enjoying an escape from her usual responsibilities, and forms an unlikely bond with teenage stoner Miles (Stanley Simons), a sweet kid who, at least temporarily, hints at a way of living which requires neither recklessness nor obsession.

Praise should go to production designer Maite Perez-Nievas and costume designer Allison Pearce, who give the film a retro vibe and a distinctive aesthetic which means it’s visually satisfying even where the story is thin. There’s enough going on here to make it clear that director Erin Vassilopoulos has a distinctive voice, and it’s good to know that she’s now working on her second feature. Superior has many appealing qualities and will make an interesting retrospective if she makes a success of her career, but for the meantime, it feels incomplete.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2022
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On the run, Marian returns to her hometown in upstate New York to hide out with her estranged identical twin sister, Vivian. Struggling to put the past behind her, Marian lies about the reason for her return, leaving her sister in the dark until their two worlds begin to collide.

Director: Erin Vassilopoulos

Writer: Erin Vassilopoulos, Alessandra Mesa

Starring: Alessandra Mesa, Ani Mesa, Pico Alexander, Jake Hoffman, Stanley Simons

Year: 2021

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


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