One might as well ask: Where was Michelle Pfeiffer? The actor is back like she hasn’t been in years—like never before, really—in this superb, downbeat drama about a divorced Brooklyn woman slipping through the economic cracks. One of the most iconic actors of the ’80s and ’90s, Pfeiffer supplied moxie to Scarface and Married to the Mob, and exquisite radiance to The Age of Innocence. And while those qualities peek through in her performance of the title role of Where Is Kyra?, this is more of an opportunity for subtler shades of regret, nervousness, wary reconnection and, ultimately, desperation. Pfeiffer is nothing short of heartbreaking in a part that requires her to be completely unvarnished.
As we learn through minimal shards of visual information, Kyra lives with her aging, failing mother in a dingy one-bedroom apartment thirsting for sunlight. (Shot by Arrival’s gifted cinematographer Bradford Young, the movie takes drab interiors to a depressing new low, swallowing up Pfeiffer in dark fields of gloom.) She’s childless, friendless and constantly on the job hunt, toting a purse crammed with spare bus change. And when the one person in her life is suddenly gone, Kyra—wrecked by grief and a loneliness that will be shaded in over time—has zero income. She can’t legally cash her mother’s government checks.
Above and beyond his commendable interest in an all-too-real tragedy for many, co-writer-director Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George) has made a proper old-school indie, one that feels as scrappy as its main character and which keeps its incident to a drip. Instead, the momentum plays wholly on Pfeiffer’s face: her growing worry and small-hours math. (A shrieking metal-on-metal score by Philip Miller is slightly on the nose.) Kyra ends up throwing herself at another struggling soul she meets in a bar, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), who is either her last chance at happiness or a convenient stave against potential eviction. Where Is Kyra? has the build of a galvanizing short story, and if it feels too meager for a feature, that’s on us to adjust to its insistent beat of personal ruination.
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