Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) has moved back in with her elderly mother (Suzanne Shepherd) to help as a live-in caretaker. Her altruism is somewhat offset by her circumstances: divorced and unable to find work since downsizing eliminated her job two years prior, Kyra enjoys a frugal yet expense-free existence courtesy of her mother’s pension checks. Comfort breeds complacency and, when her mother dies unexpectedly, Kyra has no other means of support. Expenses pile up quickly. She falls behind on rent, can’t afford her phone bill, and still can’t find even part-time employment.
The only bright spot in Kyra’s dwindling worldview is Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a fellow tenant in the building also struggling to make ends meet. Doug’s kindness and sympathy make her uncomfortable, though; where dependence on her mother was acceptable, handouts from her lover are not. Although her situation fails to improve with time, a spot of administrative good luck staves off disaster for a time. A one digit error in her mother’s social security number results in a rejected death certificate application. Still in possession of her mother’s clothes and wig, Kyra takes advantage of the mistake and continues cashing her pension checks in disguise.
To focus on the details is to ignore Where is Kyra’s central point, though. Because this is a film about loneliness, alienation, and the isolation of living alone in a bustling city. Where is Kyra languishes in yellowy darkness; if the subject matter fails to depress on its own, then the oily shadows and anemic lighting of dingy apartments and the nighttime streets of New York will. Characters rarely share the frame together, isolated by even the camera. When they do it’s often in the reflection of mirrors and windows, their environment conspiring towards loneliness as well. The few moments when Kyra and Doug get to stand beside one another or—most astonishing of all—touch each other provide relief from the emotional claustrophobia.
Pfeiffer continues her recent string of superb performances, taking advantage of long pauses to communicate more in silence than the script (penned by director Andrew Dosunmu and Darci Picoult) says through speech. Dowdy clothes and a pinched expression cannot quite conceal a mischievous attractiveness beaten down by ill luck and poor choices. Pfeiffer turns Kyra into a creature worthy of pity rather than condescension. As her part-time lover Doug, Sutherland comes across as positively chipper by comparison. He buoys an otherwise dreary succession of events until he too gets dragged into Kyra’s desperate schemes.
Where is Kyra might not be the most cheerful film of the year—it may in fact be one of the most depressing—but it is honest. Two excellent performances by Pfeiffer and Sutherland make the emotional wringer worthwhile, but brace yourself for a dark and dismal ride.