Thursday, November 2, 2017

Stephen Cone's PRINCESS CYD is joyful, genuine and, oh, so un-movie-like...

..and if that seems odd for TrustMovies to be congratulating a film for its un-movie-like appearance, so be it. There are times when you want the magic of movie-making (Wonderstruck is one such) and others when capturing characters of unusual reality and grace seems like the kind of miracle that you almost never see. So it is with PRINCESS CYD, the latest from writer/director Stephen Cone, who has already given us worthwhile films such as The Wise Kids and Henry Gamble's Birthday Party.

That latter movie had much of the good stuff that Cone's new one possesses -- the filmmaker is shown at left -- but toward its end it piled up incident so heavily that it suddenly descended into melodrama. There is none of that here, and his latest is all the better for that lack.

Instead we get a cast of characters who think, speak and act in ways that seem remarkably honest and real -- and yet at the same time so unaffected and unusually thoughtful that it is almost shocking to see them on the same movie screen that most often offers us stupid superheroes, over-the-top violence, and thoughtless, by-the-numbers action. Oh, and there's one more thing, too. We get some sex.

In Mr. Cone's world, however, sex is a fine, good thing, especially when it's accompanied by caring and thoughtful questioning about its importance and place in one's life.

The movie opens on a black screen, as we hear a 911 call being made. This lasts only moments, but it is enough to put us in a very dark place. But then we cut to a pretty young girl on a soccer field and a title card that reads "Nine Years Later." This quick, rather quiet set-up introduces us to the title character, played by a stunning and incandescent young actress named Jessie Pinnick, above, who is every bit as believable, if unusually poised, as she is beautiful.

Cyd has come to the Chicago area to escape a depressed dad and visit her aunt, played by another talented and beautiful (and a generation older) actress, Rebecca Spence (shown above), whom she has not seen for some years. The two bond a bit warily but hopefully, as they begin to simply "talk about" things. Mr. Cone's particular skill, I think, comes in writing dialog that flows naturally, even as it probes so many interesting areas and raises questions that linger in our (and his characters') minds and gently push us (and them) into further thinking and questioning.

Cone is never judgmental, nor are most of his people. His characters love reading, and in fact get together for occasional evenings at which they simply read to each other from their favorite texts. They're nicely diverse, too, without pushing the point. In fact, you'll wish you had more people like them in your own life.

When sexual desire and lust raise their attractive heads -- both straight and gay -- you'll root for the participants and enjoy their time together without ever feeling like you've leered or intruded. This is another of Cone's accomplishments. And this time, when the chance for melodrama and a heavy hand appears, he wisely and believably circumvents it. The fellow can tackle religion, too, and make even an agnostic reprobate like me listen and ponder a bit.

America -- hell, the world -- needs more of this kind of thing, but there are damned few filmmakers able or willing to create it. Mr. Cone is clearly stretching and growing. I hope we'll see a lot more of him and his work.

Meanwhile, Princess Cyd -- from Wolfe Releasing and running 96 minutes -- opens this Friday, November 3, in New York and Chicago, and then in Los Angeles on December 1. For those who want to get better acquainted with this filmmaker, from November 3-12, The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens will present "Talk About the Passion: Stephen Cone's First Act," which doubles as the NYC debut of his new film and an early career retrospective of his work (click here for the schedule). In Chicago, his new film will play the Gene Siskel Film Center, and in Los Angeles, it will open at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. More cities around the country? Not sure, but as Wolfe is releasing, a DVD debut is scheduled for early December. And maybe there'll be some streaming soon, as well.

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