Fast Color, 2018.
Directed by Julia Hart.
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, Christopher Denham, and David Strathairn.
A woman is forced to go on the run when her superhuman abilities are discovered. Years after having abandoned her family, the only place she has left to hide is home.
It is movingly fitting that one of the only superhuman-based films centered on women (in this case, generations of women with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and her growing star power, underrated television character actor Lorraine Toussaint, and youngster Saniyya Sidney bonding and making amends while also going even further back reading ancestral passages from a handed diary) focuses on the artistry of creation and the beauty that can come from such a thing (both in terms of nurturing offspring and vibrant digital effects) rather than apocalyptic destruction and its fallout from squaring off against the same tired cookie cutter villains played out on screen for decades now. This is made all the more impressive considering that the events take place in a dried up dustbowl devoid of rain and water, slowly but surely killing off the human race.
Fast Color (a collaborative project between director Julia Hart and her La La Land producing husband Jordan Horowitz) does inherently contain traces of these elements due to the nature of its genre, wisely never morphing into a bombastic spectacle or a battle to save the world. Not that those tropes are necessarily bad, but avoiding such commonly covered ground confirms remarks from Jordan during a post-screening Q&A (shown to audiences for the first time at the Chicago Critics Film Festival after receiving an outpour of praise from SXSW) that this was never conceptualized as a superhero movie (not even a traditional one); it’s about women, who do happen to be of color, living in isolation and fear of higher authorities with abilities they don’t understand or know how to control.
Naturally, the government rarely takes a breather from tracking them down, but to the script’s credit (also written together by the married couple) they actually don’t come across as aggressively evil. They want to grab these people, specifically Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as she also inexplicably suffers from seizures capable of causing tremors around the nearby landscape, to study them in a tricky middle-ground that is simultaneously immoral and logical. However, this is not your average good and evil film, likely due to the fact that there is little effort to fill in the gaps of exactly what the agents want beyond a broad generalization; the concern lies with the trio of complex and phenomenally acted women.
Additionally, Fast Color opts to do away with exposition for many of its characters, which will be met with divisive reactions. Ruth has a strong personal arc starting out as someone recovering from substance abuse, ready to confront reality back home where she left behind her daughter and mother, even if it means possibly putting them in danger. Admittedly, aspects of the narrative can feel somewhat bare-bones, but Gugu clearly understands this character and knows exactly how to portray her, even during the first 20 minutes or so that involve lots of wandering and quiet, nuanced moments devoid of dialogue. The remainder of the film is still very human slice-of-life, as we see how this mysterious power that can disintegrate objects and manipulate them in a number of ways burdens each family member in different ways.
It should also be called to attention just how imaginative Fast Color is, as the first time this magic is shown in action, viewers will probably start contemplating how this could be a danger and what ways, for better or worse, it could be used to impact the rest of society. There’s also a dynamic to do with color, but it’s best left undescribed and meant to be seen; for an independent film, the special effects are dazzling and in their bright hues and minimalistic aesthetic, are some of the best all year. It sounds blasphemous, but you’re probably going to remember the visuals of Fast Color more than the next mainstream blockbuster shoved into theaters. Towards the end of the film is a cruise through Albuquerque lit with a candy-colored coating, and it truly is beautiful, especially contrasted with the desert surroundings.
This one is definitely a slow burn that actively subverts expectations of the genre for the best, but as previously mentioned, it can feel lacking in terms of character development. We don’t need overwhelming details about Ruth’s drug abuse or what exactly the antagonists are seeking, but a little more would have gone a long way in raising the personal stakes. Also, some of the writing can feel a bit awkward with one particular major reveal feeling unnecessary, because once again, the knowledge behind it is summed up in about two sentences. The reasoning makes sense but it’s hard to find emotional resonance. Still, the ideas and wonderful chemistry between the three great actresses (Gugu should not be singled out either, as both Toussaint and Sidney have memorably delivered critical lines) are enough to win this one a recommendation. If nothing else, Fast Color absolutely deserves the claims of being a superhero film like no other, choosing to focus on motherhood and creation.
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