Always Shine (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
There are plenty of movies that are willing to explore the sunny side of friendship and too few attempt to put a magnifying glass onto its darker corners. Here is a film that aims to look into the envious and jealous feelings one feels due to a friend’s success. Only it is most unfortunate and frustrating that it runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through, the third act so painfully standard in its efforts to show one’s guilt and shame.
Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald star as Anna and Beth, respectively, who decide to go on a weekend getaway to Big Sur to catch up and bond. Both are actresses. Although Beth has been booking numerous roles lately, Anna cannot seem to book a job. It has gotten so bad lately that Anna’s finances are in turmoil. She hints she may not even have a place to live when they return to Los Angeles. Director Sophia Takal makes the correct decision to employ as many close-ups as possible because just about every exchange is telling of those involved.
This is no ordinary thriller in that it does not show violence. Violence is talked about, it is in the way words are wielded like daggers, and it happens off-camera or just out of the shot. Noticeable is the film’s level of control. Observe how the camera is unafraid to keep still, especially when conversations turn into disagreements which inevitably heat up to a boil. And when the camera does move, we grow anxious that someone being talked about under a negative light might be listening all along.
Davis and FitzGerald are quite mesmerizing to watch not only because the camera is tightly fixed on their faces. It is in how they project their characters’ emotions, how they utter their lines, how they play with silence and breathing. I admired how they are able to juggle several emotions within a span of seconds. I felt as though Anna and Beth are both emotionally intelligent, proficient when it comes to reading between the lines. Excitement comes in the form of us wondering whether one is aware of what the other is really saying.
The third act is pedestrian, boring, not worth anybody’s time. The manner in which it communicates guilt or a broken psyche is annoyingly similar to too many mainstream films’ ideation of such mental states. We get the impression that perhaps the writer, Lawrence Michael Levine, does not know how to end his story in such a way that is loyal to his story’s central thesis. As a result, he chooses a route often traversed—most uninspiring because the setup seems willing to explore new territory.