Sophia Takal’s Always Shine opens with one of the best sequences of the year. We watch a pair of women – Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) and Anna (Mackenzie Davis) – perform for men. Beth’s performance is in an acting audition, which she is informed will involve “fairly extensive” nudity. Anna – another aspiring actress – has a confrontation with a mechanic, shot in the same fashion – a tight close-up against a grey background – but revealed in retrospect to be a real conversation.
These two scenes establish the film’s interest in acting: specifically, how women perform for men, professional and socially, and how these performances are rewarded and punished respectively. The problem is, the scene is so good and so clear in outlaying Always Shine’s thematic focus that the rest of the film suffers in comparison.
In particular, the Persona/3 Women-inspired third act, where the women exchange identities, lacks the disorientating thrust of those films. This is presumably intentional – when Anna assumes Beth’s persona, she also forfeits the agency that made her such an exciting character – but it can’t live up to the potency of the film’s introduction. An excellent film nonetheless, and the rare chance to see such a story told by a female director.