GOLD STAR: First-Time Filmmaker Victoria Negri Is A Subtle Shine
Gold Star is a refreshingly intimate first-time film from director Victoria Negri, with a beautiful story about losing a loved one.
To begin with, I am a sucker for coming-of-age films. Throw in an impressive cast and an east coast setting and I’m sold. Gold Star, the debut feature film by Victoria Negri, delivers on all fronts, with a few missteps here and there.
Gold Star follows a young Vicki as she journeys back to her home town in New Haven, CT, after receiving the news that her father has suffered a stroke. She meets a friend along the way, who teaches her a thing or two about compassion, mutual respect, and the importance of companionship.
At first, I thought that the writing was lacking in weight and too on-the-point in an uncomfortable way. But as I eased into the film, I realized that the script began to bleed with small-town authenticity.
In a dinner scene early on, Catherine Curtin’s character receives a voicemail from a friend (a throw-back to landline days). “I cannot take any more of her bullshit!” she quips. Curtin’s line saves the scene, and in many ways acts as a turning point for the remainder of the film. She loops us in to the family’s private life, saving us a seat at the metaphorical table.
Negri’s script leaves plenty of space for casual conversation while pausing for silence when appropriate. I appreciate the quiet moments of introspection – Vicki lazing on a lawn chair or studying a family photograph – as much as the chatty, nostalgia-filled scenes between her and her friends. There is a lot to be found in this film if you tune your ear properly. Perhaps the script’s rusty start can be attributed to just that: it’s a start.
The film’s main character, Vicki, upholds a defensive-yet-vulnerable state of being, which is a loving take on the necessities of modern femininity. She needs and attracts support and attention from the opposite sex – namely her new friend, Chris, and her boyfriend – but draws lines on her own terms. And when her boyfriend crosses that line, things between them must come to an end.
As the film progresses, Vicki allows Chris to break down her walls. But she still lacks sympathy for others, which undermines her capacity for unselfish human connection. Even at work, Vicki dismisses patrons and avoids conversation. She has the all-too-familiar millennial knack for making everything about herself. Luckily, though, this changes as the film goes on.
So often we see Vicki on her phone, which acts as a distancing device, a parameter of her relationship with her boyfriend and of the oscillating (dis)connection from those around her. She texts her boyfriend but always calls Chris: a nice detail worth noting.
One of the perks of a female writer/director is that her film will almost always allow for the woman character to drive the action. (Think Lady Bird, or Patty Jenkins‘ Wonder Woman). Thankfully, the industry is finally making room for directors like Negri, whose presence in the indie sphere is crucial if we want to see any sort of paradigm shift. Vicki’s character calls the shots in her own narrative – when she gets up and walks, so too does Chris. And I mean this quite literally.
As Vicki’s mother, Deanne, Catherine Curtin embodies the strength of a woman in pain and the unconditional affection of a mother in mourning. (Or, more accurately, pre-mourning.) In many ways, Curtin saves the film. She courageously stands her ground, both in her own home and at the hospital with her ailing husband.
Negri’s script allows Deanne a wide emotional range; she is protective of her husband, headstrong toward hospital employees, and stern yet soft with her daughter. Although she tries to maintain a composed exterior, I am refreshed by the moments in which she dips into the emotional extremes. (There is one particularly sweet scene where Deanne attacks Vicki with kisses as she lays in bed.)
One of the most exciting parts of indie films in general is watching how the crew makes do with a limited budget. Negri, alongside cinematographer, Saro Varjabedian, plays with soft focus and POV shots from the opening scenes. The contrast between Vicki’s life in NYC and the realities of a family crisis at home in CT is literally night and day; we see Deanne in the ambulance with her husband at night and the next morning Vicki wakes up in her boyfriend’s city apartment, bathed in sunlight.
The only issue I have with the camera direction is that for the first 20 minutes of the film, I could picture the camera and crew in most shots. I was far too aware that I was watching a film. L-cuts and by-the-book photography abound, although, to be fair, neither of these components are out of norm for any indie film. Thankfully, as time passed, cozy closeups and more sophisticated handheld shots replaced the static shots of early scenes.
Conclusion: Gold Star
By the final third of the film, I was so invested that I genuinely did not want it to end. But then it did. And rather abruptly, at that. There is a haunting quality to the film’s final moments, like a crescendo that was building all along but could only be sensed in hindsight. Much of Gold Star is lined with shadow, but, much like in real life, pockets of light exist in unison.
What are your thoughts on Gold Star?
Gold Star is now available on Amazon Prime and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD early next year.
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