Princess Cyd, 2017.
Written and Directed by Stephen Cone.
Starring Jessie Pinnick, Rebecca Spence, Malic White, James Vincent Meredith, Tyler Ross, and Matthew Quattrocki.
Eager to escape life with her depressive single father, 16-year-old athlete Cyd Loughlin visits her novelist aunt in Chicago over the summer. While there, she falls for a girl in the neighborhood, even as she and her aunt gently challenge each other in the realms of sex and spirit.
Directed by Chicago based filmmaker Stephen Cone (Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party), Princess Cyd is at once genuine and inauthentic. As previously seen in his evergrowing portfolio of indie character studies, Cone presents humans with a deep aura of grace. Truthfully, there is no better word to use; working from the mismatched familial duo concept, it should be a given that the sophisticated and semi-famous novelist Aunt Miranda (played by Rebecca Spence with elegant wisdom and humbleness) and her visiting 16-year old college hopeful niece Cydney (Jessie Pinnick in a revelatory showing) more interested in promiscuously discovering her sexuality and soul-searching who she is, would argumentatively butt heads. Except that never happens, bucking genre conventions to explore how opposing personalities and generational gaps can bring about respectful admiration and togetherness.
That’s not to say the household is all sunshine and rainbows, as Cyd is a teenager complete with youthful flaws. Starting out, she often rudely interrupts Miranda during conversations and isn’t very enamored with her writing success or their subject material. However, she’s not your standard, catty high-school drama queen whining about wanting a car or some other first-world problem, but rather mature. Little backstory is given (and it’s for the best), but the summer vacation travel from her South Carolina home to Auntie’s Windy City abode comes from heated tensions with her single parent father reaching a breaking point. Tragedy is no stranger to the family, briefly touched upon in the opening scene before receiving a full explanation during a tender, bond strengthening exchange between Cyd and her newfound punk-rockish friend/potential girlfriend Katie.
If there’s one area where Stephen Cone triumphs, it is absolutely between the interactions of his intelligent and thoughtfully drawn characters. Whether it’s coming to understand her sexuality or what fascinates Miranda about telling stories, the dialogue exchanges feel real. Also, Cone isn’t one to shy away from having them discuss deep themes, such as religion, spirituality, the afterlife, their romantic lives, and where they obtain life fulfillment. They each take up new experiences to bond rather than force distant living conditions (Miranda offers to take Cyd shopping while Cyd attends a formal house party for literature acquaintance and aficionados), which technically means the narrative is frequently devoid of conflict but remains engaging due to the sincerity of the performances.
At the same time, too much of Princess Cyd feels manufactured to lay out the story with eye-rolling convenience. I won’t critique possible love blossoming from passionate gazing inside a coffee shop (they’re teenagers trying to make sense of their bodies), but there are 2-3 different badly written sequences that push the friendship closer. It doesn’t feel like Cyd and Katie are naturally falling for one another, and by the time there’s a short stretch of physical (possibly sexual) abuse, it’s forgotten instantaneously with no trauma. Don’t even get me started on the rooftop dance.
Physical displays of affection fare more believably, as Cone frames the inevitable intimate encounter non-graphically, aware it’s about the beauty of first love. This review was written at a time where every day there are more prominent female actors coming forward detailing disgusting allegations toward hugely influential and successful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, so it’s nice to report that, even though it’s an independent feature, sexually everything felt organic, artistic, and not exploitive of young women.
Still, there’s a lot of dead-air and boredom to be found, namely from an unnecessary amount of literature passages being read aloud or certain scenes extended a bit too long. The character work is strong, but there isn’t much to latch onto emotionally. I came away from Princess Cyd cold and indifferent to the characters, yet fascinated at how two wildly different people could find harmony. Hopefully, Stephen Cone can someday channel his astute observations on humanity into something with more bite or grip. For the time being, someone send Jessie Pinnick more work; she’s given a ton of weighty material to juggle in this coming-of-age tale, passing with flying colors. It’s just a shame authentic dialogue from likeably sophisticated females and pretty cinematography (Miranda has a full-blown garden that is gorgeously captured as Cyd discovers it) is all the movie has going for it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com