Nancy — The Review and Interview
Nancy is a woman in her mid-30s that seems obsessed with her computer and catfishing folks. She has a boring life taking care of a sick mother (the always welcome Ann Dowd). Well, not taking care of the way she should, but then, her mom kind of treats her like a servant. It’s safe to say, neither is as nice to the other as they should be.
We see her meet up with a guy she’s been talking to online (the always terrific John Leguizamo). He lost a child, and his communications with Nancy have really helped him to deal with the grief. One of the first things that made me realize this movie would be something interesting is how that story plays out. It’s not a crazy over-the-top dramatic moment. And it’s more powerful for not trying to be that.
While watching TV, Nancy sees a couple (Steve Buscemi and J. Smith-Cameron) who had a 5-year-old child disappear decades ago. An age progression photo that’s shown looks a lot like how Nancy looks. She soon contacts them with her suspicions. Yet since we know she’s fond of tricking people, we wonder what she may be up to.
She brings her cat and suitcases up to New Jersey. Leo Lynch (Buscemi) is skeptical, but his wife Ellen is convinced this is their daughter. It’s so intriguing to watch, because as a viewer, you understand why each of these people would feel the way they do.
As they’re eating together and making polite small talk, my wife kept saying, “Come on! Just get some of her DNA and it will end all this! What are they doing? This is so simple to prove these days!”
And before she could say that a third time, Leo informs Nancy that he’s called a detective and they’ll be taking saliva for DNA testing in the morning.
Writer/director Christina Choe, on her first feature, gets credit for covering all the bases, and making this story so thought-provoking. Another filmmaker would’ve wanted Nancy to start stalking the parents and do something sinister. Maybe it’s because of her first experience we witness, we realize she’s just a lost soul, looking for something to cling to.
She also has traits that we’ve all seen in at least one person. Nancy can be a compulsive liar. When working a temp job, she claims she took a trip North Korea. When a dentist wonders how that’s possible, she’s quick to show photos on her phone and give an explanation on how it was possible [my lie on that would’ve been to say I was friends with Dennis Rodman].
There was something so painful and beautiful, watching Ellen deal with grief and relief, all at once, upon Nancy’s arrival.
There were moments in the movie where I would start to think something more should be happening, and then it would. Sometimes that meant Leo looking through old photographs, or Nancy seeing a treehouse and bringing that memory up to Leo. Even Nancy’s love of her cat, when you wonder why she couldn’t leave it at home for a few days, comes into play in a few interesting ways.
Another filmmaker would’ve made Leo an angry man. In this, he’s merely cautious. My wife pointed out how sweet it was that he seems to want to protect his wife from being hurt.
There were so many nuances to these characters that are smartly written and well-performed by the cast. I liked all the subtle moments, and also the powerful ones. One of those powerful scenes has Ellen crying, while telling the story of how her daughter disappeared.
One of the only things I didn’t like was the score, which was so obnoxiously intrusive.
This opens Friday at the Ken Cinema on Adams Avenue, and is worth seeking out.
My interview with with the writer/director appears below.
3 stars out of 5.
JOSH BOARD: You had to do a Kickstarter campaign to get this movie made. So that makes me want to ask two things. Are you happy that it actually worked out, and that the movie is actually getting distribution and people can see it? And…is it nice knowing you won’t have to do Kickstarter for your next film.
CHRISTINA CHOE: Haha, yes. The kickstarter campaign was just to literally “kickstart” the film into motion, but ultimately my producers secured the financing to go into actual production. And yes, thank god it worked out! I’ve been working to make a feature film for so many years that it’s kind of surreal to think it finally happened.
JOSH BOARD: How thrilled were you when you found out Steve Buscemi would be in this?
CHRISTINA CHOE: I definitely screamed with joy. He’s a legend and an icon, so I’m so grateful he said yes.
JOSH BOARD: And it’s not just Buscemi….getting John Leguizamo and Ann Dowd is a pretty nice score for an indie film.
CHRISTINA CHOE: Definitely. I can say I’m totally spoiled now because I got to work with the best actors alive.
JOSH BOARD: I usually cringe when I see the movie posters or DVD boxes. The photos or art work always seems like it could’ve been done better. But I think the photo used for this movie…with Nancy holding up a photo next to her face…a smiling image and a frown, is just brilliant. It made me think of Memento, and a few other movies. Did you come up with that?
CHRISTINA CHOE: I knew the image was striking but didn’t really realize it until way after we had finished editing. I also knew when we were shooting that scene, that it was special because Andrea’s performance gave me goosebumps. It wasn’t scripted that she would hold the paper to her face, that was all Andrea’s brilliance
JOSH BOARD: What was the first movie you saw that made you fall in love with film? And what was it that made you decide to pursue this?
CHRISTINA CHOE: I don’t remember it being only one movie, it was more like the entire foreign film and independent section at the video store, made me fall in love with film. Film was always escapism for me, and a way to travel outside of a small town in New Jersey where I grew up. It was the only way to experience different cultures and people. It took me a long time to actively pursue directing because I didn’t know any filmmakers growing up and didn’t understand how people did it as a career but I was always making stories in some shape or form, or writing.
JOSH BOARD: You did something in this movie that’s so subtle, and my wife and I were both asking the other if we noticed it. The mom would talk to Brooke as if it was her daughter, saying things like “When YOU were little…” whereas Buscemi would always say things to her like “When Brooke was with us…” as if that wasn’t Brooke. Yet there’s one moment when Buscemi, after the tree house conversation, says “We built it for YOU” (or something like that). It’s friggin brilliant on your part. It’s so subtle, it makes me wonder if anybody else will catch that. How did you come up with the idea of doing that? And when you’re writing a script, do you have to be strict on how the actors are reading your lines, or do you give them leeway to say it the lines or adlib the way they want?
CHRISTINA CHOE: Thank you for noticing! When I was writing the script, I remember thinking how Buscemi should refer to her as Brooke because he still is skeptical, whereas Ellen is all in right away and because of that her character would say “you”. Its something I’m happy if someone notices because I think details are what make up someone’s character, and it was very purposeful on my part. There are scenes that I did more improv with, like with Nancy and Betty (Ann Dowd) and Nancy and Jeb (John Leguizamo) so I don’t always stick to the script. It really depends on the scene.
JOSH BOARD: My wife and I had this big debate. She had mentioned after the movie, how strong their marriage was and how he was so sweet to her. I mentioned that there were subtle hints that it’s not the perfect marriage and they have a few problems. Can you tell us who is right?
CHRISTINA CHOE: I think you’re both right. Statistically couples that have a missing child, don’t stay together, I imagine because the trauma is so extreme. I think Ellen and Leo really love each other but losing Brooke, really tested their relationship at various times and to varying degrees over the years because of how each person’s grieving process was so different.
JOSH BOARD: I think it was a nice touch that this girl has mental problems, but that all her catfishing behavior online, is about helping people, not trying to dupe them for financial gain or to make them feel stupid. At any point early on in the script was that different? And how did you decide on that approach for Nancy?
CHRISTINA CHOE: I always wanted Nancy’s “lies” to have emotional truth to them. She clearly always had a maternal void in her life, and so it’s makes sense that she would need Ellen to be her mother. I always crafted the character of Nancy in the script and then with Andrea, with a lot of empathy because I wanted to create a character that is morally ambiguous but also has an emotional inner life. To me that’s more interesting and complex, and rarely do we see female characters that get to play in that terrain. Nancy has had a lot of trauma in her past and she often weaves these stories as a way to connect with other people who are also damaged.
JOSH BOARD: Since you did the movie “I Am John Wayne” I have to ask…what’s your favorite John Wayne movie or western? And…what are your Top 5 movies of all-time, any genre?
CHRISTINA CHOE: Ha! I don’t have a favorite western but my top 5 are
The Day I Became a Woman
Brighter Summer Day