Fawzia Mirza co-wrote, produced, and stars in director Jennifer Reeder’s diaspora comedy drama about a Pakistani Chicagoan who has a lot on her plate: a career as a lawyer, an intensifying romance with a Latina bookstore proprietor (Sari Sanchez), a new passion for lucha libre wrestling, and—here’s the conflict—a live-in traditionalist mother (played by Indian screen legend Shabana Azmi) who doesn’t know her daughter is a lesbian.
Most Beautiful Island
The auspicious writer-director debut of the Spanish actress Ana Asensio, this harrowing commentary on the ordeals faced by undocumented female immigrants was inspired by her own experiences. Newly arrived in Manhattan, Luciana (played by Asensio) has degraded herself in a fast-food advertising job and worked thanklessly as a nanny. Suddenly, she gets a chance to make a quick two grand. The gig requires her to report to a basement wearing a cocktail dress, where other attractive women have gathered to face who-knows-what horrors. Will she fight or die? The question is rhetorical.
The Incredible Jessica James
“I’m freaking dope” former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams opines (in character) in Jim Strouse’s rebound comedy—and it’s hard to disagree. Williams plays the eponymous Bushwick non-profit dramatist—a mentor for public school kids—who’s trying to move her life on professionally and romantically. Lakeith Stanfield plays her ex, and Chris O’Dowd is the promising new guy in her life, but The Incredible Jessica James is, pure and simple, a star vehicle for its forceful leading lady.
Where Is Kyra?
After a four-year absence, Michelle Pfeiffer gives a reportedly wrenching performance in a noirish Brooklyn drama about an unemployed middle-aged women teetering on the brink of destitution. Directed by the Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George) and featuring typically low-key color-saturated cinematography by Bradford Young (Arrival), Where is Kyra? might precipitate one of the comeback stories of the decade. Kiefer Sutherland co-stars as Kyra’s slacker boyfriend-of-sorts.
Emily Browning plays the Australian visitor—part-naif, part-provocatrice—who upsets the emotional apple carts in Alex Ross Perry’s cross-sectional depiction of self-involved Brooklynites who don’t know how privileged they are. The latest cool rumination on middle-class disaffection and disturbance by Perry (Listen Up Philip; Queen of Earth) was photographed in grainy 16mm by his usual cinematographer Sean Price Williams. It backs Browning with an outstanding ensemble that includes Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz, Mary-Louise Parker, Chloe Sevigny, Adam Schwartzman, Analeigh Tipton, Lily Rabe, and Kate Lyn Sheil.
The latest from Aaron Katz (Cold Weather, Land Ho!) is a stylized L.A. neo-noir that sounds like it was flavored with pinches of Mulholland Dr., Clouds of Sils Maria, Neon Demon, and Personal Shopper. Lola Kirke plays Jill, the long-suffering P.A. of unruly Hollywood starlet Heather (Zoë Kravitz). When Heather is murdered and suspicious looks turn Jill’s way, she turns sleuth to clear her name. It’s not a unique set-up, so much may depend on how rigorously Katz parses the dynamic between the boss and the peon.
Domestic lycanthropy with a feminist thrust. Abused by her adulterous pig of a husband and four horrible kids, harried suburban homemaker Jill snaps under the pressure and transforms herself into a snarling dog. Marianna Palka, the writer-director and star of Good Dick, re-teams with Jason Ritter on this scabrous social satire which, perhaps over-optimistically, requires the errant husband to address his toxicity. Jaime King plays Jill’s Sister.
The Obvious Child team of actor Jenny Slate and writer-director Gillian Robespierre returns with this comedy about two Manhattan sisters (Slate and Abby Quinn) who discover that their dad (John Turturro) is cheating on their mom (Edie Falco). Since the girls are in the process of racking up their own “moral” failings—heroin and illicit sex factor in—just how judgmental can they be? One of Landline‘s strongest suits may be its observation of period atmosphere: it’s set in dim and distant 1995, when digitally enabled emotional distancing wasn’t an option.
Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ documentary sensitively explores the relationship of a middle-aged couple, Dina Bruno and Walmart greeter Scott Levin, as Scott moves into Dina’s small Philadelphia apartment. Dina, who has a range of mental disabilities, outlived her first husband and was nearly killed by a subsequent boyfriend. The less experienced Scott has Asperger Syndrome. His difficulty in forging intimate relationships frustrates Dina, who wants a fulfilling sexual life. This unflinching Sundance prizewinner is buoyed by the unfailing optimism with which Dina confronts her problems.
Regarded as one of 2017’s most emotionally rich coming-of-age indies, Princess Cyd stars Jessie Pinnick as a 16-year-old South Carolina soccer player prompted by a tragedy to visit with her Aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence), a successful novelist, in Chicago. Stephen Cone’s intimate drama hinges on the aunt and niece’s evolving relationship, and Cyd’s tentative romance with genderqueer punk Katie (Malic White).
A revered Brooklyn indie from 2000, Jim McKay’s Our Song is a slice-of-life drama about the fears and aspirations of three Crown Heights teenagers (Kerry Washington, Melissa Martinez, Anna Simpson). Though the girls are united by membership of their high school’s Alaska-bound marching band, their moral and spiritual outlooks are different: money, loyalty, pregnancy, and romantic commitment are all on the agenda as the trio makes its way through a sweltering summer. Washington made her debut in the film. Also in the festival is McKay’s latest, En el Séptimo Día/On the Seventh Day, the story of a Mexican restaurant delivery boy in Carroll Gardens whose dream of playing in a soccer final is threatened by his boss.
Despite having received two Tony nominations, 86-year-old Lois Smith is one of those great American performers who is relatively unsung. She’ll get major recognition, however, for her performance in Michael Almereyda’s film of Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play Marjorie Prime. FilmRise, the movie’s distributor, will launch an awards campaign for Smith, who re-creates her stage role of a widow of the near future who selectively reshapes her past in conversation with an A.I. hologram of her husband (Jon Hamm) when he was young and handsome; Geena Davis and Tim Robbins co-star. The festival also features Almereyda’s documentary Escapes (2016), the highly allusive memoir of actor, producer, and Blade Runner writer Hampton Fancher.
Ingrid Goes West
Director Matt Spicer skewers the neediness of the i-generation with this dark comedy about social media stalker Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza)—read: psycho—who uses inheritance money to relocate to L.A.’s Westside and infiltrate the life of Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Plaza is said to be amazing, mad eyes and all, in this update on Single White Female (1992), which won Spicer and David Branson Smith Sundance’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.
Snowy Bing Bongs
If Santa’s helpers had been cross-bred with Coneheads and the aliens from Earth Girls Are Easy (1988), they might have spawned the snowflaky characters played by Tallie Medel, Sunita Mani, and Eleanore Pienta of the Cocoon Central Dance Team. The dance-comedy trio, which performs its absurdist sketches in Alex H. Fischer and Rachel Wolther’s performance art flick, isn’t exactly Pussy Riot-ous, but it’s on to something.
BAMcinemaFest 2017 runs from June 14–25. BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217, (718) 636 4100