This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Caitlin FitzGerald

Director: Sophia Takal

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But Keep an Eye Out for the Psychosexual Drama

Release Date: November 25, 2016 (Limited)

In the psychological thriller Always Shine, two actor friends (MacKenzie Davis, Caitlin FitzGerald) take a coastal weekend trip to Big Sur, but the real journey is in their heads. For hardcore cinephiles, this simple premise is worth getting excited about due to its similarity to Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 classic Persona. In both films, two women vacationing essentially fuse into one identity, both through psychological attachment and the suggestion of cinematic visual language. In Persona, the two are an actress fallen ill and her attending nurse; Always Shine is like a postmodern update (of what was already a postmodern concept), since its vacation buddies are both actors. The multiple layers of performativity pile up and swallow each other.

A pair of introduction scenes set the tone for Always Shine. Both consist of intimate, practically invasive close-ups of the two leads as they converse with a man off-screen. Beth (FitzGerald) nervously survives an audition for a role that requires nudity. She kind of knew that might be a possibility, and the director gives her a perfunctory assurance that she will be treated appropriately, but her face betrays every disappearance of dignity. Anna’s (Davis) scene is both more intense and more mundane. She fights an unfair bill from a mechanic, insisting that she will not pay for it. She gives the performance every ounce of energy, but in fact this is not an audition. She really is having car troubles, and her commanding energy is being wasted on the indignities of daily life.

Davis gives the better performance of the two, but to be fair, much of that has to do with her playing the better actor. It is worth considering the possibility that FitzGerald is worse on purpose. If so, she is admirable for sacrificing herself for the greater good of the film as a whole.

Always Shine is a tiny release, but it feels like it could be hugely influential because of how directly it tackles the state of women in film. Thus, I recommend that everyone with the means to do so seek it out, if only to just provide support and thereby prevent folks like Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald from devouring each other in real life.

Always Shine is Recommended If You LikePersonaSingle White FemaleMulholland Drive

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Jealous Scowls