Two actors spar for alpha status in Sophia Takal's provocative mystery—a twisty film with a swap up its sleeve.
A mumblecore vet made good, Brooklyn actor-director Sophia Takal steps up considerably with this ridiculously entertaining Brian De Palma–esque thriller, one with a knowing wink in the direction of Ingmar Bergman’s identity-swapping Persona. It’s about two frenemies (Caitlin FitzGerald and Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis), both neurotic actors of a competitive nature, who head to woodsy Big Sur, California, for a gal-pal retreat that you know will go south.
Takal does wonders with the buildup, pushing her leads toward borderline-bitchy exchanges at every opportunity: over coffee, while reading through a script (a minor masterpiece of intimidation, the moment is unbearable), even while one is taking a shower and the other is fuming into the bathroom sink. Every casual exchange becomes a lunge for dominance, and the movie keeps you flinching.
What makes Always Shine transcend, though, is its long-telegraphed yet still unexplained switcheroo—not exactly new to fans of Mulholland Drive (or even Freaky Friday) but near-experimental in its implications, given the context of two women struggling to make their professional marks. Bodies, eyes, faces: These are the tools of actors. So having these characters slip skins is both liberating and a touch scary. The result is a movie that doubles in meaning the more you let it.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew