Michelle Pfeiffer is rarely given the opportunity to sink her teeth into a juicy role anymore. She’s undoubtedly one of the greats, and Andrew Dosunmu’s Where Is Kyra? gives her the chance to remind audiences how good she can be. This is a grim, darkly shot film that depicts a character’s journey that isn’t shown every day. It succeeds from a craft standpoint, but it’s Pfeiffer’s outstanding performance that singlehandedly holds the film up.
Kyra is a middle-aged, unemployed woman who for months has been taking care of her elderly, ailing mother out of a very dark, cramped, filthy apartment in Brooklyn. After her mother dies, she has to figure out how to stay in this apartment, which is all she has. She becomes increasingly desperate in her effort to make money and survive.
This is a bleak character study. Kyra is a woman who is so completely alone in life, and you sense she’s been this way for a very long time, even before her mother passes away. Pfeiffer is so good, that her solitude, and desperation in a scene where she goes to a restaurant, begging for a chance at a minimum wage job, feels so real. Pfeiffer is also an actress so often cast as the elusive beauty, and she reminds the audience she is capable of playing a flawed individual who, unfortunately, might be more relatable than your average lead in a movie.
However, this film doesn’t come without its negative aspects. It’s a conscious decision to light the film so dimly, but sometimes the image onscreen is so dark you have trouble seeing what’s going on. This works in moments where the viewer is peeking through the crack in a door, for instance. You feel like you’re just watching these people live their lives. But, it doesn’t work everywhere. The film’s musical score, however, is what singlehandedly stabs this film in the gut. Composer Phillip Miller is credited with the score, but it hardly feels like a score. It’s just loud, jarring noises, ambient street noise, and sounds that are supposed to add to Kyra’s internal tension, but ultimately distances you from it.
Pfeiffer’s performance, however, makes this almost essential viewing. It’s the best work she’s done in a very long time. Kiefer Sutherland, as an old friend of Kyra’s, is good but underdeveloped. And the film itself is startling, challenging, unconventional and deeply moving. While it may not do everything right, it succeeds because it’s a look into the life of a character we don’t see very often onscreen. And while that journey may not be uplifting or rewarding, it’s certainly one worth watching.