' ' Cinema Romantico: As High As The Sky

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

As High As The Sky

"As High As The Sky" opens with its protagonist, Margaret (Caroline Fogarty), re-arranging furniture, making certain every nook and cranny is utterly anti-clutter. Her fiancé has recently jilted her, but this cleanliness is less a coping mechanism than an actual obsessive compulsive disorder. The inevitable irony, of course, is that all this organization is upended upon the arrival of her older sister Josephine (Bonnie McNeil). Even with advance warning of this visit, it still seems to catch Margaret, a detail-oriented party planner, off guard, not least because Josephine's precocious daughter Hannah (Laurel Porter) is in tow.

Their Sister Code is not nearly as honed as Carol and Dani of "In A World..." and this is because in spite of having the same mom and dad, Margaret and Josephine were born thirteen years apart. The former was planned, the latter was a surprise. This would suggest their introduction to the world also established their future personalities, but just as crucial was their parents' tragic death when Margaret was but four years old. Thus, she was raised in an aunt-centric environment while Josephine, brought up by mom and dad, essentially abandoned her flesh and blood to go straight Full Spirit. Now she is seeking out her sibling to make amends. Clearly change is in the air, and while those changes might be foreseeable, it is their execution within the story and overall effect that count.

Aside from the film being set almost entirely within the grounds of the protagonist's spacious home, the most notable element of "As High As The Sky" is that it's exclusively female. The only players in the film, from its featured trio to the only-heard, never-seen aunts of Margaret who function as her personal Phone Call Greek Chorus, reminding us and her from whence her many insecurities sprang, are women. Doubly, the majority of the crew, from writer/director Nikki Brandelein on down, are women too. This collective feminist spirit is not simply a press note, however, but the film's excellently rendered rallying cry.

Not only has Margaret's fiancé spurned her, Hannah has never even met her own father, a man who was already married with another family when he and Josephine got together. This is not to say that men are presented as the "enemy", but rather that the women are portrayed as self-reliant. As Josephine and Hannah's visit goes on, the more Margaret is made to realize the fiancé wasn't the be-all, end-all, and the more she takes possession of herself. Part of that admittedly stems from Josephine briefly exiting mid-picture and then re-appearing, which might come across too convenient, except that I suspect she was pulling a Coach Norman Dale - you know, when he purposely got himself kicked out of the game in "Hoosiers" so Shooter could coach? I suspect Josephine forced her sister to toughen up, especially in light of a late-game reveal, one that dovetails nicely with the sisters' pasts and is smartly not so much about the reveal itself as the various reactions to it.

One passage sans Josephine finds Margaret inviting a client, a pop star named Kay-Tee-P (Lainee Gram), outfitted with a fetching Debbie Gibson-era fedora, to discuss party specifics. Instead the conversation turns to Hannah and her father, and Gram does an exquisite job in that moment by subverting the caricature she easily could have become. She plays Hannah her new song and they bust a move. Before long, Margaret busts a few moves too.

These women don't need to stand by their man. They're dancing on their own.

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