Michelle Pfeiffer delivers one of her best performance in years in Where is Kyra?, director Andrew Dosunmu’s follow-up to Mother of George. It’s a dark, often suffocating character study that revels in misery, barely a hint of levity in sight as a woman spirals into desperation.
Pfeiffer plays Kyra, who lives in a pokey flat in New York City with her ill mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), where they barely exist considering Kyra has been out of work for two years, ever since her marriage ended and she was forced to move back from Virginia. And then Ruth dies, and Kyra, driven by heartache and mounting bills, steeps to new levels of desperation (first in scraping change for wherever possible to committing fraud), all the while developing a relationship with Doug (Keifer Sutherland), who has his own demons to keep under control.
Dosunmu has crafted bleak film about what’s it like to lose everything and not know which way to turn. At one point, Kyra is driven back to Virginia to her ex-husband’s doorstep, begging for any money he can spare, despite the fact he’s now shacked up with another woman and a baby on the way. It’s heartbreaking at times, but also oppressive. There’s darkness around every corner, which takes it toll, making for a film that becomes difficult to engage with on a personal level. Kyra’s struggle is real, but Pfeiffer in the role doesn’t make it wholly convincing, no matter how much she ploughs into the role. For much of the film, she plays dress up, disguised as someone else, but the level of hopelessness Kyra is supposed to be feeling never entirely translates.
But considering she’s been fairly absent from the screen in recent years, it’s a role that displays exactly what Pfeiffer can do. Even if you can’t fully appreciate the plight of her character, there’s no denying her talents, and the small moments of joy come down to her incredible range. Sutherland is also on form her as a man plagued by his own mistakes, the toxic levels Kyra plunges to threatening not only to ruin her chance of a future, but also increasing the chance of ruining what he’s built up since losing everything himself.
Dosunmu recruits Mother of George cinematographer Bradford Young, whose take on New York City presents something different from the usual. It’s seen here as a dark, unforgiving city, the tight close ups trapping Kyra in her own disparity. It’s interesting to see this juxtaposed by the colours she wears, for example the yellow coat, which she latches onto as if it’s her last piece of the successful life she used to had, and so wants back. It may wear too heavy, and not reach the level of empathy from the audience that it’s aiming for, but Where is Kyra? is undeniably stirring and a welcome to return – if not quite a full return to form – for Pfeiffer.