Nancy review: Andrea Riseborough is just one of a number of actors who shine in this otherwise dark, stark, winter-set tale of a lost soul in rural America.
Riseborough is the title character, a thirty-five year old woman who has obviously had a troubled past. Her mother (a brief, though solid Ann Dowd as Betty) is largely housebound, suffering from the tragic effects of Alzheimer’s. She will spend days in her armchair watching old movies while Nancy tiptoes around her, aiding her every need, including bringing home the little money they have through temping jobs around town. Betty continually opens Nancy’s mail, metaphorically opening old wounds for her struggling daughter, who she tells just days before her abrupt death that she was adopted. There may have been a loss of a child in the past, an event that Nancy is dealing with through an online blog where she befriends John Leguizamo’s Jeb, who has a familiar history, and also one who is dealing with loss.
J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi are similarly tortured souls, Ellen and Leo – two married parents who are suffering from the loss of their daughter thirty-years previous. A news report focussing on the pair and the disappearance and potential kidnapping of their five-year-old daughter Brooke is caught on the television by Nancy. It throws up a suggestion that she indeed may be that long-lost child, an updated, heavily aged image of Brooke bearing more than a striking resemblance to her. Nancy contacts Ellen and Leo and tells them that she could well be their missing little girl, and following the recent news that Betty was indeed not her biological parent, agrees to meet with the pair, along with her pet cat, Paul, right away.
This impressive debut from writer/ director Christina Choe is very much grounded in bleak reality, desaturated skin-tones set against the wintery backdrop of upstate New York. The cinematography, so stunningly framed in both 4:3 Academy ratio and, as the story progresses, into a much wider format, is simply stunning and such a stand-out feature of the film. The performances are equally impressive, while the screenplay, simplistic in its design, is well paced and expertly staged. The narrative throws up many questions – like, surely a DNA test will solve this mystery right away – pop up throughout – all of which are answered, along with as many doubts from earlier occurrences in the film, all of which question Nancy’s motives altogether.
One might have hoped that the story may have been pushed further in terms of its scope, but its subtle nature is one of its assets, and because of Riseborough and co. and their wonderful performances, Nancy becomes one of the surprises from this year’s independent film output, and certainly puts it primary creative force in Choe well on the map. Well worth seeking out.
Nancy review by Paul Heath, October 2018.
Nancy was reviewed at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival.