Review: “Always Shine” Is Further Proof That Director Sophia Takal Is An Important, Emerging Talent
If Sophia Takal’s directorial debut film “Green” showed hints of her being an up-and-coming talent to watch out for in the future, her second film “Always Shine” cements her as one of independent film’s most important female voices. Mixing elements of Lynch and Kubrick, and giving her two female leads an undeniable power by stripping away any cliche form of sexuality, Takal has crafted an excellent psychological thriller. Much like “Green”, the themes here are jealousy and competitiveness, but this time Takal frames it with a dreamy, isolated setting and lets the tension slowly build to a fever pitch. The horror elements of the film take a back seat ,though, to something more profound. Takal and writer Lawrence Michael Levine (who also plays Jesse in the film) focus their story more on how sexist the film industry is and how that affects women in that industry.
Aspiring actors and long time friends Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) and Anna (Mackenzie Davis) have very different trajectories to their careers. Beth, the more soft-spoken, innocent looking of the two is on the rise. She has been in a handful of horror films and is well-known in the L.A. scene, and was even featured in a “Young Hollywood” article of a recent issue of a magazine. Meanwhile Anna, the brash and outspoken one, has struggled to gain a foothold in the industry. We immediately see the unspoken conflict between the two women, as Beth talks about the new film she is working on, and Anna is offered a non-paying role in an avant-garde film.
In an effort to reconnect and save what is left of their fading friendship, the two head to Big Sur for a vacation in the woods. Things start off pleasantly enough, but soon the conversation and mood start to become something else. “Do you ever feel like a whore?” Anna asks, when Beth complains about having to do nude scenes in her upcoming film. It is Beth’s compliance and ability to be a quiet, pretty performer that has gotten her far. Likewise, Anna laments that her inability to be “Lady-like” has kept her from getting roles. Takal not-so-subtly paints a picture of how in a male-dominated industry, where women are often treated like decor, a woman’s only real options are to shut up and play nice or struggle to make ends meet.
Instead of opening up to one another and leaning on each other for guidance, the women turn on each other and let their feelings simmer and boil over into pure disdain. Things hit the tipping point, when the ladies meet a handsome man at the local bar. He is initially interested in Anna, but when she asks him a few questions about why he is on a mens’ retreat he is put off and complains about her being too aggressive. He then turns his attention to Beth, who has said maybe two words the entire time. When Anna leaves to use the restroom, she returns to fins Beth giving the man her phone number. And, that my friends is the straw the broke the camel’s back. Mistrust and jealousy morph into violent hatred, and Anna loses control.
Both Davis and FitzGerald are brilliant. Their range and chemistry with each other create pitch perfect performances, that lend a powerful vehicle to Takal’s message. And, that message is an important one, and is delivered beautifully through this amazing genre film. As I said before, Takal is an important voice… and everyone should be listening.