Always Shine full movie review - Cat gut
If you see Always Shine for any reason, see it for its two lead performances.
Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin Fitzgerald appear to be on verge of spontaneous combustion --- at each other but mostly at themselves --- for the hour-and-a-half run time of Sophia Takal's sophomore feature (penned by her fiancé Lawrence Michael Levine).
Always Shine is one of the most compellingly shot and edited indie features I've seen recently, using jump-cuts and flash-forwards in consistent intriguing ways. It opens with Beth (Fitzgerald) reciting a "please don't hurt me" slasher-film script into the lens for an audition and immediately follows with Anna (Davis) giving a polar-opposite speech that is more, well... unrehearsed. It's a clever set-up and tells you everything you need to know about these two young women in about eight minutes: Both are actresses. Beth is confident with her looks and charm, but not much else, and Anna is so insecure that every twitch Davis delivers is almost too painful to study for long.
Both are grappling for a tow-hold on the Hollywood feature film success ladder but only Beth has achieved a moderate level of success even though it's obvious Anna is the more talented of the two. It's a shame they can't be one person --- they'd be perfect. And that's where Always Shine gets really interesting as the two head off for a weekend of "healing" at Anna's aunts house in (gorgeous as always) Big Sur.
Watching Davis and Fitzgerald come *just shy* of ripping each other to shreds --- with paper cuts not razor blades is far more interesting than watching most actresses pull hair and scream. A fierce layer of male complicity runs underneath each woman's self-loathing and that's a nice touch, carefully derailing the "crazy chicks" cliché the film could have collapsed into under less skillful hands.
Audiences looking for an easy-out are going to be a bit put off by the last third of the film, which doesn't chart any new territory plot-wise and can be confusing for the more literal-minded, yet it strangely works for the most part. Ultimately, Takal seems to be saying that the image in the mirror is only going to be as ugly as you make it and subsequently even harder to ignore. Always Shine is many things, but slight and superficial it's not.