So… BRIGSBY BEAR (2017) with no comedy? Mmph…
The story looks like it’s about a woman who watches the news one day and suspects that a family who lost their daughter decades ago might be herself, going to the parents to verify if her beliefs are correct, while striking up a relationship with these people while they wait for the results.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Andrea Riseborough (THE DEATH OF STALIN , BATTLE OF THE SEXES , NOCTURNAL ANIMALS , and upcoming films MANDY  and THE GRUDGE ), Steve Buscemi (LEAN ON PETE , BOSS BABY , HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 , and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION ), Ann Dowd (this week’s HEREDITARY , AMERICAN ANIMALS , NORMAN , and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC ), John Leguizamo (JOHN WICK 2 , THE INFILTRATOR , AMERICAN ULTRA , and the upcoming CRITICAL THINKING ), and J. Smith-Cameron (stuff I don’t watch).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Christina Choe, known for short films, making her feature film debut. Congrats, miss. Composing the score is Peter Raeburn, known for WOODSHOCK (2017), and the upcoming BEHOLD MY HEART (2018). The cinematographer is Zoe White, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Finally, the editor is David Gutnik, known for stuff I’ve never heard of, but has worked with Choe before.
Overall, this looks like it could be pretty good, but I wonder just how much of this movie is going to have padding. I look at all the short films that Choe has done and I worry that the medium is what she’s used to, not feature-length. In short, I’m worried that this ninety-minute movie will end up being unnecessarily long for its subject matter. Hell, the movie’s trailer says, “Two to three business days,” so I’m wondering if this will have enough time to really get the characters developed in their relationships. But it’s not like other movies haven’t gotten away with less. HIGH NOON (1952) was an hour and a half movie set over the course of an hour and hal
f in-story. So who knows? Good writing is what matters, so I ain’t bashing before seeing.
This is my honest opinion of: NANCY
Nancy Freeman (Andrea Riseborough) is a thirty-five year old woman living with her cold and distant mother Betty (Ann Dowd), who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and tragically passes away in her sleep. Living alone for a few days, and not having the strongest reaction to her death, she watches the news and sees a couple, Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron) and Leo (Steve Buscemi), who lost their five year old daughter thirty years ago. The press releases an aged image of what their daughter would look like and the image is hauntingly similar to Nancy’s face. Believing that she might be their daughter, and that her mother kidnapped her all those years ago, she calls up the couple and soon begins an uncertain journey of whether or not it’s true.
You know what, I like this movie. It’s got some problems, some of them glaringly, but it does more right than wrong that ultimately delivers a pretty powerful, emotionally fueled story.
First and foremost, I rather enjoyed Riseborough’s performance. She brings a lot of nuance beneath her somber and soft-spoken exterior. From the get-go, we see that Nancy’s relationship with her mother is pretty strained, who is a pretty critical and fairly cold woman toward her daughter, and even inconsiderate. She opens her mail, comments on it negatively, always has something to say regarding her daily activities, is generally that kind of mother who is more selfish than anything. Seriously, Dowd is probably that one woman who can flawlessly play a bitch to the umpteenth power, but in reality is like the sweetest woman in the damn world. I wouldn’t know, but that seems to be the case with a lot of “career villains.” Jack Gleeson, Tom Felton, it sort of feels like a trend. Just tell me I’m right and I’ll climb on top of my delusional pedestal. In any case, despite the uneasy upbringing, it’s clear that there is love between them. The bit where Nancy cuddles with her mom and she’s not rejected, or anything, so we can surmise that it was never an abusive raising. Likely a “tough love” show of affection. And Nancy herself does seem to have joy and passion in her life. She’s a writer, having her own blog, and has even traveled to North Korea before, finding time to smile every so often, so I don’t think she’s moody for no reason.
In fact, both Buscemi and Smith-Cameron are great. Ellen is as hopeful as they get with the situation, whereas Leo is quite hesitant. Both sides are easy to understand. The doctored picture bares a striking resemblance to Nancy, so it’s no wonder she has such high hopes. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, Leo mentions that ten years prior, a girl was found and thought to be their long lost daughter, Brooke, but it turned out to be a false alarm. While he’s not a harsh or even insensitive man, he’s certainly attempting to remain impartial and just wants to know the truth. He never outwardly rejects the possibility that Nancy might be Brooke. In fact, you can see glimmers of hope that she might be, but he never truly wanes from his position.
One of my favorite scenes is when Nancy makes that initial phone call. I really like how it took its time to let the emotions sink in. Both Riseborough and J. Smith-Cameron run that gauntlet of uncertainty, frustration, awkwardness, fear, excitement, and who knows how many that can be deciphered. In short, it’s brilliantly acted and directed. Another that stands out is when Nancy is being taught how to dance by Ellen. It’s a sweet, cutsie moment, but also a hint of tragic. I say that because it shows just how her hope has consumed her and that she has no means of remaining neutral in this situation, and the same could be said about Nancy, making the scene doubly bittersweet.
But for all the praise I sing, I did mention that there were some problems.
One of the first major problems that crops up is pretty much anything with Jeb (John Leguizamo). To be clear, it’s not an acting issue. In fact, I might say that this is Leguizamo’s best performance that I’ve seen in a long time. The issue is that the scenes he’s in don’t contribute much to the overall story. Jeb is a man who had a daughter who died and is divorced from his wife. He found Nancy online on her blog and they connected and I guess… she said that she was pregnant, possibly thinking about getting an abortion. They meet with her being fake pregnant, lying that her name is Becca, and eventually casually meet up later without her fake pregnant belly and has to come clean about her actions, and we never see Leguizamo again. This all happens early on in the movie too, and none of it comes back into play. One’s first impression might be that Nancy is a compulsive liar, which seems to be the case several times throughout the story. She recalls stories of holding Ellen’s hand when she was younger, playing in a tree house that Leo built, a story about how Betty told her that she was adopted, but the audience has never been privy to these conversations. So maybe Nancy is a compulsive liar, but she’s not lying about the staggering resemblance to the picture, but her lies will come back to bite her in the ass. But no. That’s not the case. She just lies to this grieving man, making it an unbelievably shitty thing for her to do. Granted, this would have tarnished her character in some way no matter how it would factor into her character, but the fact that it doesn’t factor in… in any way just makes it seem way out of character and never seems to do anything remotely close to it before or after the fact.
Other unnecessary scenes include a hunting accident scene that goes nowhere, and scenes involving Paul the cat running away, which means nothing either. They’re all pure fluff to extend the runtime.
Also, I have no idea if this was a writing, or directing issue, or something else, but I feel like Betty’s barely had an effect on Nancy, and not in a narratively compelling way. She finds her mother in bed and says and does almost nothing. Even if you wanted to chock it up to that she didn’t really know what was happening, that same lack of reaction is present when she’s told by the doctor that she died. Again, you could claim that she was in shock, but not only is that pushing it by this point, but she never has an emotional breakdown. I get that their relationship was complicated, but it wasn’t without some love. I feel like an emotion emotional reaction would have been warranted.
I do feel like guns were jumped in certain aspects. While I support Ellen’s high hopes that Nancy is her long lost daughter, I have to ask why she (and Leo, for that matter) is so accommodating toward her. Letting her sleep in their home, in their daughter’s bed, all that. I mean, keep hoping, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, but keep it real. The truth is, no one knows the truth. Nancy may be a nice enough woman, but she’s still a stranger. Bunk her up at the nearest and cheapest pet-friendly hotel. Sure, have her over for conversation, go out to the local diner and chat up a storm, but I feel like letting her sleep in their home, sharing so many memories of a girl that Nancy may or may not be, is a bit much to me.
Overall, much as I ramble about the negatives, I truly like this movie. Yes, there’s a couple scenes that didn’t need to be in the movie, yes, some character decisions may not seem realistic, which sadly prevent the film from being, or even good to some viewers. But at the end of the day, all I ever want out of a movie is good characters, and I get that in spades. That acting is wonderful, the story is touching to the point that I teared up, and there’s some truly memorable scenes to boot… when they matter, anyway. So as a recommendation, yeah, I say check this one out. It’s worth your time. Just keep a box of tissues handy.
My honest rating for NANCY: 4/5
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