SXSW 2021: 'Potato Dreams Of America', 'Women Is Losers' | Coming-Of-Age, Drama | Capsule Reviews
POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
Coming-of-age dramedy Potato Dreams Of America seems to be sort of a biographical project from writer-director Wes Hurley as its lead character ''Potato'' (Hersh Powers when younger, Tyler Bocock when older) grows up to realise that he's gay, he just happens to be gay in 90's Russia. Potato's mother Lena (Sera Barbieri as younger, Marya Sea Kaminski as older) seeks a new life for both of them in America, eventually becoming a mail-bride to a guy called John (Dan Lauria) from Seattle. Potato and Lena try to find their true selves in a place that looks to be slightly more open-minded at the time.
The film is pretty much divided into two parts; a shorter period in Russia and longer one in the US, both which are also stylistically different. The beginning part in Russia is set up nearly as a stage play with very stationed cameras and small rooms while the US part opens up the location so characters can be outside, in school or in a karaoke bar. Kristen Bonnalie's production design serves the story but the set decoration gets to go deeper as the colour placement, props and even down to the furniture are constantly part of characters' actions. As an idea, the structure works well but the first part outshines the second so much that the time allocation feels wrong, therefore things feel rushed or dragged.
In that first part set in Russia, Barbieri and Powers' have unbelievably good screen chemistry so it hurts even more that there isn't more to it, specifically more of Barbieri's delightfulness. Bocock and Kaminski are good later too but the age jump undermines their work somewhat and our experience with them as well. The second part however really brings out the best of Catherine Joy and Joshua Kohl's score which is so joyful from the original cues to the remix of 'Star-Spangled Banner'. That mixed with the elegant handling of John's arc doesn't make the fall from the first chapter too tough so you can still have some fun with it.
Smileys: Set decoration, Sera Barbieri, score
Frowneys: Some issues with structure
WOMEN IS LOSERS
Director-writer Lissette Feliciano's Women Is Losers takes us back to San Francisco streets of 1960s where a catholic high school girl Celina (Lorenza Izzo) becomes pregnant with an army returnee Mateo (Bryan Craig), this just happens to coincide with the pregnancy of her best friend Marty (Chrissie Fit). Both girls would want to have an abortion, during which the film turns the focus more on Celina as she ends up having the baby, trying to a working mom in a time when misogyny is alive and kicking.
Brisk 80 minutes gives a filmmaker either a chance to get to the point immediately or make an extended short film that depends on if you vibe with the setting. Feliciano luckily chooses former as the latter is always a coin toss, ''Women'' has a nice pace and rhythm to it that keeps time jumps in check. There are no parts that feel out-of-place which is great because the payoffs aren't all that satisfying as far as the story goes. Some of its fourth-wall breaking really helps though because without those, the dialogue and scene play could become a bit of a bore.
Many of the flaws reflect on the surface of connection with the characters and that is unfortunately difficult because of the overall casting. Everyone in the film is just way too old for their characters - we start with them at the age of 17, army guys closer to 20 assumably - and it's a problem when everyone looks to be around their thirties. That just doesn't get you involved in their arcs because the puzzle pieces don't fit. Izzo is a good lead with her expressive eyes but the movie's male actors aren't at that level, notably Steven Bauer who plays Celina's stepfather as that character has major tonal inconsistency from the wardrobe to different scenes he is in (first scene at home vs. bar scene with Marty).
Frowneys: Casting, Steven Bauer