Princess Cyd

 

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An award-winning coming-of-age drama (by a filmmaker too little known) proves to be a miracle of female portraiture. 

 
Princess Cyd
  

When he set to work on Princess Cyd in 2017, the American writer/director Stephen Cone was embarking on his eighth feature but his career has been slow to take off. By way of compensation he has acquired some notable admirers among critics including the late Roger Ebert and Princess Cyd, the first work of his that I have seen, certainly proves that he is very talented and is possessed of at least one special gift notable in a male writer. We live in an age when questions are asked as to who has the right to tell certain stories, be that based on skin colour, ethnicity, sexuality or simply the sex of the storyteller. What is especially striking about Princess Cyd is that the three principal characters are all women, each of them realised fully in detailed and utterly persuasive portrayals. Quite clearly the actresses concerned contribute greatly to this, yet everything stems from the writing. Given that Cone is male, his success in bringing to life the 16-year-old Cydney Loughlin (Jessie Pinnick) and her aunt, the Chicago-based novelist Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence) with whom she comes to stay, offers powerful support for those who believe that talent and imaginative empathy matter above all else.

 

As it happens, Cone grew up gay but prefers to speak of himself as a queer filmmaker. Certainly Princess Cyd has a strong lesbian element since a central theme here is Cyd’s discovery that, despite having a boyfriend, she is deeply attracted to the film’s third main character, the barista Katie (Malic White), a standout figure with a Mohawk hairstyle who will become her lover. I understand that gay males feature in some other films by Cone so it might be thought that he would have acquired wider fame by now, this being an age in which so many LGBT films are made. Perhaps Cone has been held back by being true to himself. Judging by Princess Cyd, he refuses to be pushed into making the kind of movies that are patterned on what is expected to appeal to this niche audience.

 

What I see in Princess Cyd is a work which suggests that Cone’s nearest equivalent as a filmmaker may well be the late Eric Rohmer, albeit that his work looks to be as firmly American in tone as Rohmer’s was French. There is in both cases a strongly empathetic feel for the characters, an emphasis on people rather than on plots as such and a love of the arts which in this film finds expression through Miranda Ruth being so involved in the literary world. By making her a successful novelist who holds soirées, Cone brings in scenes of readings and discussions and these touch on American writers from Hawthorne to Baldwin. It’s not something that fully matches the philosophical conversations favoured by Rohmer, but it does extend to talk approving a world in which individuality and diverse opinions are welcomed and in which people seek their own form of spirituality (Cone was brought up by religious parents and seems himself to be seeking a kind of spirituality outside religion).

 

The three leading actresses shine, a quality echoed in the light to be found in Zoë White’s photography. The realisation of these roles is so wonderful that to some extent it puts the film as a whole in the shade. Making what for me is an inevitable comparison with Rohmer, I did feel that Cone had not altogether found ways of overcoming the absence of a fully-fledged plot. Scenes such as Miranda’s soirée could be better shaped and it is surely a misjudgment to fade to black for so long when there is one more brief scene still to come. More significantly, I found that the somewhat delayed and sudden introduction of songs heard on the soundtrack belonged to the world of commercial cinema. I would not have seen that as a bad misstep but for the fact that so much of Princess Cyd is so far removed from that kind of thing. Regardless of such issues, this is a film that encourages one to welcome Cone as a filmmaker able to express his own outlook, one that pleasingly centres on a positive attitude to diversity and individuality without ever becoming hectoring. It helps too that he has the skill and wisdom to ensure that none of the characters is reduced to being a stereotype. Furthermore, Cone is no escapist as witness dark touches in this film which while tactfully handled are not ignored. But what is wondrous is the compelling depth of the three leading figures here, a triumph that is shared because it belongs to Spence, Pinnick, White and Cone combined.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Rebecca Spence, Jessie Pinnick, Malic White, James Vincent Meredith, Matthew Quattrocki, Dane Loperena, Tyler Ross, Max Fabian, Lily Mojekwu, Kelvin Roston, Keith Kupferer.

 

Dir Stephen Cone, Pro Stephen Cone and Madison Ginsberg, Screenplay Stephen Cone, Ph Zoë White, Pro Des Amanda Brinton, Ed Christopher Gotschall, Music Heather McIntosh, Costumes Kate Grube.

 

Sunroom Pictures-Mubi.
96 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 27 June 2021. No Cert.