Christina Choe’s superb feature debut Nancy is paradoxically both compelling and repulsive.
Andrea Riseborough anchors the narrative by embodying a character whose odd behaviour is as riveting as it is sometimes reprehensible. Yet such is Riseborough’s skill (and the subtlety of Choe’s script) that Nancy remains fascinatingly, beguilingly slippery; neither anti-heroine nor entirely sympathetic protagonist. It’s a fine balance, often attempted and yet rarely executed so well.
Riseborough’s initially edgy, skittish Nancy gradually becomes tempered with shards of deeper feeling, revealing a heartache-provoking portrait of loneliness. Riseborough has the audience eating out of her hand; you might start to believe in Nancy’s scam despite being in on it. It’s clear that she too begins to hope her own fallacy is more than just opportunistic fraud.
Ann Dowd and Steve Buscemi also give quiet performances that speak great volumes of pain, as grieving parents who are two sides of the same coin.
The fine-tuned drama is matched by sometimes surprising technical decisions that nevertheless feel absolutely spot on. The score and creepy night-time shots seem smuggled in from a genre horror, a mood that’s complicated by the fact that Nancy’s characterisation never settles into either villain or victim. Enlargement from boxy to widescreen aspect ratio reflects the freedom Nancy gains through her adoption of different personas. Choe’s exploration of this goes far beyond Catfish-style exposé of the dangers and possibilities of the internet, offering bleak conjecture on the results of unfulfilled human need for validation, connection and love.
Narrative, performance and stylish production design marry jarringly yet brilliantly in this intelligent and unsettling think piece. There are no clear answers but plenty of smart ideas; this moody rumination on the modern human condition has a lot to say, yet still leaves plenty for you to grapple with beyond the cinema.
CAST: Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Ann Dowd, John Leguizamo
DIRECTOR: Christina Choe
WRITER: Christina Choe
SYNOPSIS: Nancy becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to wilful belief.