Film Review: Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer has a rare, boldly deglamorized lead role in a film that is unfortunately unworthy of her.
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Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is literally at her wit’s end, having been downsized from a good job as an accountant and, in the current harsh and ageist market, perpetually unable to find work. Lonely, divorced and saddled with an aged mother (Suzanne Shepherd), she tries everything, including making herself up and dressing in a way to hopefully slice 30 years off her age. When Mom dies, however, she resorts to another disguise: actually impersonating the dead woman in order to collect the pension checks she desperately needs to survive. It’s nothing she’s proud of, that is for sure, and she struggles to conceal it from Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a genial new suitor she meets in a bar between job searching.

If anything, Andrew Dosunmu’s film should be saluted for seriously addressing the current economic crisis affecting so many Americans, which is rarely presented on our screens with such unflinching honesty. Downsized U.S. citizens may not seem the sexiest cinematic theme, but one feels that the public may actually be sick of glossy portrayals of the rich and entitled and truly hungry for films they can relate to and maybe even glean some survival ideas from. Unhappily, although the premise of Where Is Kyra? could have been the springboard for both trenchant social commentary and rich drama, Dosunmu‘s unsureness and faulty sense of pacing make it a dawdling, ineffective bore. He lingers on shots too long and hasn’t much visual sense, as he takes a very literal approach to portraying poverty as an entirely sad and dun-colored prospect, with nary a glimmer of found beauty to be had anywhere. His Brooklyn looks like we are in 1957.

A telling moment occurs in the crucial scene in which Kyra hits absolute rock bottom, doing what she (and, indeed, every New Yorker) feels is the nightmare job of them all: standing on a sidewalk, wearing a sign and shilling. A properly tactful director would have respected his heroine’s humiliation and filmed this degradation subtly, but Dosunmu vulgarly puts Pfeiffer in the star spot, front and center of the screen, facing forward, all the better to savor the miserable spectacle of a fallen superstar in the most inappropriately grandstanding and exploitative way.

Pfeiffer, who was a reigning Hollywood movie queen in the 1980s-90s, has had a very sporadic career of late, and it would be nice to say that this is a major comeback, in a leading role, for her. But there’s not much she can do with the underconceived role and a director who wasn’t much good at helping her fill in the blanks. The film is an unrelenting downer and so, I’m afraid, is she, more mousy than even that classic mouse, Maggie Smith, in that masochistic masterpiece The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne ever dreamt of being. Pfeiffer does have a few fine moments of bracing fury when the walls really close in on her. But watching her slog through this monotonous dirge of a movie, my mind wandered, comparing Kyra, who can’t even land a job as a waitress in a greasy spoon, to Jo Ann, the ultra-glamorous, sportscar-driving owner of a posh restaurant she played in the delectable guilty pleasure that was Robert Towne’s Tequila Sunrise, with the dazzling choice of Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, at their respective juiciest, as her choice of lovers.

I’ve never quite gotten the appeal of Kiefer Sutherland, apart from his adeptness at playing faux everymen. He is completely convincing as a schlubby loser, but audiences deserve some semblance of real charisma from their stars. Opposite Pfeiffer, he is unable to conjure up any romantic charge or true emotional bond that could make you invest in their relationship. This film also had the potential to a be a stirringly effective study of love among the down and out, as with the young and tender Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in Frank Borzage’s A Man’s Castle,  or even Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway in Barbet Schroeder’s adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s Barfly, but such is Dosunmu’s ineptitude that it doesn’t happen.

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