Stephen Cone has been building a pretty strong reputation as a writer/director with contemplative LGBT-themed films such as Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party and The Wise Kids. Indeed, New York’s prestigious Museum Of The Moving Image has just finished the ‘Talk About the Passion: Stephen Cone’s First Act’ season, which featured a selection of his film, including his latest, Princess Cyd.
The titular Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is a 16-year-old who lives with her depressed single father. For the summer she goes to visit her novelist aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence), which will both get her away from her dad for a few weeks, and allow her to catch up with her mom’s side of the family, who she hasn’t had a lot of contact with since her mother’s death.
As Cyd and Miranda bond and butt heads over their shared history and Miranda’s books, Cyd also realises she has a freedom she’s never had before. She meets Katie (Malic White), who offers her an unexpected friendship that begins to develop into a romance. However, Cyd is still learning about herself, which causes her to challenge Miranda in ways her aunt didn’t expect, as well as get herself into situations where she has less control than they think.
As they feel each other out, and Cyd starts to explore her sexuality, aunt and niece both finds themselves looking at things in different ways and, sometimes clumsily, working their way towards a new understanding.
Princess Cyd is a quiet film that takes time and space to allow the characters to breath. It generally avoids histrionics and instead lets people evolve, realising that a small change in perspective can be quite profound. Miranda is reserved and academic, a woman whose life is as much lived through the characters in her books as it is in real life. Into that world comes the chaotic force of a teenager – and one who soon announces she doesn’t read – who makes her realise the things she may be missing. Conversely Cyd comes to appreciate some of the order and ritual of Miranda’s life.
It’s also nice that while film convention might make you think that Miranda and Cyd would butt heads over the teen getting a girlfriend, Miranda doesn’t care about the gender of niece’s partner. Instead it allows them to gently press one another or where they are in the world and how they look at intimacy, as well as considering ideas of gender being both performance of the internal and not matching people’s stereotypes.
Hovering in the background of all this Cyd’s mother. While what happened to her isn’t revealed until relatively late into the movie, it informs the film and gives an interesting cross-generational echo between Miranda who was once a teenager alongside Cyd’s mom, and the teenage Cyd who’s grown up without her mother around.
Some will find it all a little too quiet and lacking in incident, and there are also those who may find it difficult to relate to the very middle-class milieu of a lot of it (even when Cyd is hanging out with the androgynous Katie and her friends, it’s all seen through quite middle-class eyes). However, those willing to allow the movie the space the breath and to contemplate its characters and their situation, will find it surprisingly rewarding.
Overall Verdict: Once more Stephen Cone shows his subtle appreciation of the complexity of even seemingly simple lives, and the fact everyone and everything affects things in different ways.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac