Each year there is a movie that comes out of nowhere and absolutely knocks my socks off. Most of the time it’s a smaller film worthy of more press and deserving of a much bigger audience. So far no 2019 movie fits that description better than “Fast Color”.
The film is directed by Julia Hart who also co-wrote the screenplay with her husband, producer Jordan Horowitz. “Fast Color” premiered at SXSW in 2018 and was met with strong reviews but no distribution deal. Even after it was eventually picked up by Lionsgate subsidiary Codeblack Films, a split between the companies left the film in limbo. Lack of marketing led to no exposure making it impossible for “Fast Color” to grab the attention it deserves.
That has to be frustrating for Hart and everyone involved especially since their film is genuinely something special. It’s part dystopian science-fiction, part moving family drama. Most surprisingly, it could be defined as a superhero origin story, but one not directed by source material or restricted by franchise obligations. Instead it’s a highly original work with its own unique pulse and more things on its mind than caped crusading and cosmic threats.
First the setting: in the American Midwest we learn it has been eight years since the last drop of rain. People can’t grow food and the prices of water have skyrocketed. A fabulous Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth. When we first meet her she’s clearly on the run from something. Soon we learn she suffers from uncontrollable tremors, so violent that they trigger small earthquakes. Of course superpowers like that would draw the attention of the government who are desperate to find and study anything they can to end the planet’s slow demise.
Frightened and with nowhere else to go, Ruth flees to the one place she can potentially feel safe – home. Once there she has a tense reunion with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) who has been raising Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) for ten years on a remote country farmhouse. Hart begins to shrewdly unpack the complicated family history surrounding three generations of women. The less you know the better, but I’ll say this much: All three have special powers that have been passed down through the women of their family. But Ruth struggles, even portrayed as “broken” due to her inability to tap into her abilities.
While you could call “Fast Color” a superhero movie, it doesn’t draw its strength from spectacle but from the mysterious wonders of ordinary life and the relationships that help shape us. Many small details both physical and emotional bring weight to the story and resonate through Hart’s canvas. And they help to explore the wealth of stimulating themes: the power of maternal bonds, embracing individuality, family legacies, addiction, and that just scratches the surface.
So many elements add to the rich and engaging storytelling. Hart and her cinematographer Michael Fimognari do a variety of interesting things with the camera from elegant tracking movements to well-framed stationary shots. Rob Simonsen’s score is most often quietly effective but other times emotionally stirring without being manipulative. There’s the strong supporting work from Toussaint (I hope Oscar is paying attention), Sidney, and the always reliable David Strathairn playing a small town sheriff. And of course Mbatha-Raw who is convincing, committed, and utterly compelling. How is she not considered among our best working actresses?
It’s a real tragedy that “Fast Color” has been all but lost among the waves of 2019 movie releases both large and small. But it’s not too late. After a botched marketing campaign and minuscule theater release, “Fast Color” is now available on several streaming platforms (Vudu, Microsoft Movies, Amazon Prime, iTunes). There simply aren’t enough of these experiences out there – movies willing to infuse familiar genres with fresh, creative, and thought-provoking ideas. Beautifully conceived both narratively and visually, thematically rich and full of inspiration. This is a film truly worth championing and I’m happy to do so. It also happens to one of the year’s very best.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS