"WHERE IS KYRA?" — 2 stars — Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland; not rated, probable R for profanity, sexual content and nudity; Sundance Film Festival
There are people who prefer happy endings and people who enjoy the mixed emotions of a bittersweet ending. Neither group will particularly enjoy "Where is Kyra?," a brooding film from director Andrew Dosunmu that seems to revel in its misery.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Kyra, a middle-aged woman in Brooklyn who lives with her elderly mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). Kyra has been out of work for some time, in spite of her continued efforts to apply for menial jobs around the city. When her mother passes away, Kyra takes one of her mother's last Social Security checks to the bank and learns that it can only be cashed by the recipient.
Bit by bit, the walls close in. Kyra sells the few items around the apartment with any resale value and keeps missing employment opportunities, aside from a humiliating part-time job passing out flyers on street corners. Eventually she starts dressing up like her mother and hiding her eyes behind large sunglasses so she can cash her mother's Social Security checks, which are still coming for some reason.
While stopping by a local bar, Kyra meets Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a local cab driver and longtime tenant of her building. Kyra and Doug soon discover that misery loves company and embark on a half-cocked, mostly sexual relationship that leads to even more disastrous results once Doug discovers how Kyra has been paying her bills.
Through elements like dramatic lighting and grinding pacing, Dosunmu has created a mood and tone that are absolutely soul-draining. Every scene seems to take place in the dark — even those shot in the light of day — and interiors are rarely given more than the light of a small lamp to illuminate the shadow-draped actors. Desperate to cheer themselves up, audience members might wonder aloud whether the film's title, "Where is Kyra?" is referring to the literal challenge of actually seeing the actress in the scene.
Dosunmu matches his dreary and haunting visuals with a bleak, lagging pace that sucks the audience into the same depressive state as his protagonists. It feels like an effective setup for a powerful third-act resolution but, without revealing too much, audiences shouldn't get their hopes up. Dosunmu's message in "Where is Kyra?" seems to be that life is miserable … and then it gets worse.
The lone exception to the film's vibe is a curious tone-breaking element of punctuating several intermittent scenes with jarring industrial soundtrack clangs, which feel more appropriate for an indie horror film, before returning to the film's usual muted atmosphere.
One thing the film has going for it are the performances of its veteran leads. Pfeiffer and Sutherland are marvelously effective in their roles. The problem is that they are dramatically effective at a hugely depressing thing.
"Where is Kyra?" ultimately represents one of the biggest challenges in film criticism: Can you fault a film that is exactly what it wants to be? Dosunmu's film is dramatically shot and powerfully acted, but it is difficult to endure. This may be exactly what he is going for, but the payoff just isn't there.
"Where is Kyra?" is not rated, but would receive a probable R rating for profanity, sexual content and nudity; running time: 98 minutes.