The aesthetic of Andrew Dosunmu’s new film titled Where Is Kyra? consistently places Michelle Pfeiffer at the bottom or extreme left and right of the frame, as if the impenetrable weight of the world is pressing down upon her nimble shoulders. And, sadly, it is.
Caught inside an unending swirl of debt, unemployment and sadness over the recent death of her aging mother, Kyra is one minuscule step away from utter desolation. If the films of Bela Tarr, Ulrich Seidl or Aki Kaurismaki wallow in what I call ‘Eastern-European miserablism,’ then Where Is Kyra? should be called New American miserablism … or perhaps just American, since the gap between the 99% and the wealthy 1% has been a caste system since the first penny rolled off the mint.
Kyra’s miserable existence begins further back then the death of her mother (Suzanne Shepherd), however. Laid off due to downsizing nearly 14 months before, her mother’s passing is only the inciting event that sees Kyra endlessly handing out resumes, enduring the analytical eyes of prospective bosses looking for someone younger or with more experience, and slowly sinking in a morass of debt.
Intercut with these depressing scenes of urban survival, director Dosunmu interjects images of an elderly woman lurching around the Big Apple, cashing checks and then escaping into a restroom stall. Eventually, there’s no great mystery as to what’s going on here as the film isn’t a thriller with cliffhanger tangents, but a sobering and sad examination of the depths desperate people will go in order to remain off the street.
As Kyra, veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer gives a raw, pungent performance. Free of overblown dramatics or method-style immersion, she inhabits the main character with a fleeting sense of grace even as she’s forced to toe the moral line. In several scenes, the camera holds on her face — partially obscured by the often natural lighting used to illuminate a good majority of the movie — and the pained expression she exudes while begging for money or rationalizing her actions speaks volumes about an actress doing more with less.
As the film winds down, we know things won’t end well for Kyra and her boyfriend (Kiefer Sutherland), who reluctantly becomes involved with her affairs as well. The tone has been established from the outset. There are no big breaks for people like this. Only bad luck and obstinate bureaucracies. It’s certainly not a happy-go-lucky time at the movies. But it is a more honest representation of modern America then most films playing in the multiplex right now, as depressing and miserable as that sounds.
The film opened in limited release around the country on April 6 and expands wider today (Friday ,April 13).