' ' Cinema Romantico: Princess Cyd

Monday, March 26, 2018

Princess Cyd

“Princess Cyd” refers to the eponymous sixteen year old Cyd Loughlin (Jessie Pinnick) who is sent from her South Carolina home to Chicago to spend the summer with her Aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence), but it also refers to a book written by Miranda, an acclaimed author, a title deliberately evoking a fairytale. Writer/Director Stephen Cone’s film is not explicitly a fairytale, yet sometimes comes across like one anyway, and not just in the tuxedo that Cyd sports to her aunt’s art-oriented get-together, a nifty and striking twist on the traditional ball gown. No, that make-believe air emerges in an odd reluctance to engage with the impetus for Cyd’s Chicago summer – that is, her mother’s murder. If this weighs heavily on Cyd, as one might assume, we rarely feel or see it, either in the script or in Pinnick’s performance, meaning this backstory never blends with the overall film. If not a fatal flaw, this bleak story detail is vexing nonetheless, an unnecessary addition in a film that otherwise resists such melodramatic overtures to make its point. That resistance, in fact, proves “Princess Cyd’s” greatest strength, equating coming of age with something more emotional and imprecise than the mere ascension of a few dramatic hurdles.

At the same time, while Aunt and Niece might be completely different people, “Princess Cyd” does not hammer away at these differences nor chart their eventual friendship via easy to define olive branches. If anything, Cone finds sly ways to employ the characters’ differing behavior as a means to illuminate their evolution. Cyd communicates bluntly, which Pinnick mirrors in her speech, often jumping on Spence’s lines before she has completely trailed off. Over lunch, Miranda tries explaining one of her books, and when she worries she might give away too much, Cyd comforts her by saying she’s not going to read it anyway. In Cyd’s mind, this is mere statement of fact, not an insult, and Spence, as she often does, lets you see Miranda adjusting to this unexpectedly blunt behavior in real time.

But Cone is smart not simply to let Cyd’s bluntness function for bad; it also functions for good. In discussions about sex and spirituality, the way in which Cyd simply puts questions to Miranda leaves her aunt almost taken aback from the candidness, which Spence plays like someone not used to being confronted by such brutally honest questions. Indeed, later at an author Q&A, Miranda searches for an honest response when asked some stock question, connecting back to how she is pulled out of her comfort zone in a way she never expected by Cyd, and vice-versa.

Not that Miranda simply sits there and takes it. When Cyd, without thinking, comments on her aunt’s lack of a sex life, Miranda politely, insightfully takes her to task. If people try to put other people in boxes, just like movies try to put people in boxes, Miranda here explains this isn’t the case, and “Princess Cyd” underlines that idea by initially seeming to put Miranda in a box, what with her Nathaniel Hawthorne inspired WiFi password, but then proving her less an archetypal shrew than someone stimulated as much through intellectual pursuits as sexual ones. Then again, if Miranda knows this to be true, her niece fuzzes that truth a little, briefly ditching her aunt’s artistic get-together to fool around with a dumb boy. To each her own.

This appeal to diverse ideas blooms in Cyd meeting Katie (Malic White) at a neighborhood coffee shop. Granted, this first encounter, like moments of slow-motion running on the beach to pop songs, banks hard toward conventionality, but ultimately their relationship is less about conventional progression to the point of saying “I love you” than something like lyrical exploration, particularly the first time they sleep together. It’s one of the most beautiful sleeping together scenes I’ve seen, where the camera lingers most prominently on Cyd’s face, which Pinnick imbues with joyful disbelief, like this is more than she ever expected. It is contrasted with the earlier scene where she fools around with the dumb boy. There is a stark difference, and she knows it, and you can see it.

Miranda is afforded something of a love interest too, in the form of an author, Anthony (James Vincent Meredith), she is giving notes. He is separated from his wife, but clearly has feelings for Miranda, which are not explicated in any kind of dialogue but mere behavior and the way Meredith delivers certain lines. If the camera generally favors more basic medium shots and close-ups, Cone switches to handheld for intimate scenes, not just between Cyd and Kate in bed but in a scene of Mirdana and Anthony chopping vegetables in the kitchen. The way the camera drifts from one to the another suggests a kind of spiritual connection, one Anthony might be more interested in acting on than Miranda, glimpsed in their closing conversation where Meredith allows a certain melancholy to creep in, not that it is overtly addressed by either party. Like so much else, what’s said is in what’s unspoken.

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