Wednesday, 4 October 2017

BFI LFF 2017: PRINCESS CYD - Dir. Stephen Cone

There’s a specific joy that comes from watching a film with no preconceptions and being completely won over by it and, in the modern era of lengthy marketing campaigns, it is becoming an occurrence to savour. The film on this occasion was Princess Cyd, from Chicago based writer and director Stephen Cone.

Jessie Pinnick stars as teenager Cyd, who travels to Chicago to spend the summer with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence), a famous novelist. Cyd and Miranda haven’t seen each other since the funeral of their mother/sister almost a decade ago.

The uneasy exchanging of pleasantries, specifically those between people who are essentially family by name only, gives way to equally awkward conversation as Cyd’s focus turns swiftly to the online world in her phone and Miranda learns first hand about the priorities of the modern teenager. Their odd couple pairing produces a few chuckles, but its played more for its honesty than for laughs.

From here, Cone deftly draws out how these two very different people, at two very different periods of their lives, challenge each other on the way finding a mutual level of respect over the two weeks they spend together. Cyd hasn’t had a particularly close relationship with her father and the trip to Chicago, primarily an opportunity for her to visit the different colleges in the city, doubles as a chance for Cyd to break free of a home life forever overshadowed by tragedy.

During one of her jogs across the city, she meets barista Katie (Malic White) and is immediately attracted to her. She’s caught off guard somewhat but not resistant to allowing her feelings to grow stronger as they spend more time together. As Cyd fills Miranda in on her days in the Chicago sun, Miranda lets Cyd into her own life; she invites Cyd to her semi-regular intellectual soirée where her friends, colleagues and fellow devotees of literature meet to discuss anything and everything. Miranda has happily devoted her time to her work, but Cyd’s arrival makes her consider what other opportunities may have passed her by.

In each other, Cyd and Miranda find an approximation of, and crucially not a substitute for, the figure in their lives that was taken away from them. The natural and (refreshingly) honest conversations that they share are wonderfully even-handed. Cone never once forces judgements of his characters upon the viewer; the way Cyd and Miranda challenge and change each develops organically, grounded by the nuanced intricacies of their individuality. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about anyone in Princess Cyd, but even those with a mere handful of lines convey a wealth of humanity.

The full nature of that aforementioned tragedy is not fully revealed until nearer the end but it subtly pervades the events that unfold. Said events would barely register in a typical soap opera episode, but it’s their discernible sincerity that fuels their emotional impact, and not the artificiality of events more overtly dramatic. Jessie Pinnick and Rebecca Spence are outstanding as Cyd and Miranda, displaying the immense endeavour and skill needed to make it look so effortless. An ending that could so easily have drifted into the contrived realm of the more prosaically mainstream version of this story is instead, much like the rest of Princess Cyd, restrained and all the more affecting for it.

Princess Cyd screens at the 61st BFI London Film Festival.
Click HERE for screening and ticket details.

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