Princess Cyd (2017) by Stephen Cone
Review by Naomi Sandiego
“It is not a handicap to have one thing, but not another. To be one way, and not another. We are different shapes and ways, and our happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance.”
I think one of the worst qualities I possess as a movie enthusiast is that I tend to look at a character and I try to immediately fit them into a trope. “Ah okay, the egotistical, wise-cracking millennial,” I scoffed internally after a mere 15 minutes of Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) being on screen. “And here we have the literature-adoring author, whoop-de-doo,” I told myself after sizing up Aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence).
But as the movie went on, I found myself more and more in awe of how real these two characters felt. Each scene, each conversation,revealed just a little more depth, a little more familiarity, and by the end I felt like I knew these two characters.
The thing about Princess Cyd that really stands out to me is that it isn’t interested in giving you a traditional story with a tightly packaged beginning, middle, climax, and end. Nope! This movie, above anything else, is a character study. For the most part,the narrative is framed in a way that forces the audience to feel what the characters are feeling. There’s a scene in the very beginning when Cyd and Aunt Miranda are eating lunch and they find themselves having a very forced conversation as they attempt to get to know each other.
The camera feels like it is miles away from the two as it makes an agonizingly slow zoom-in to the two of them for the entire duration of the scene. No cuts, no close-ups, no time-jumps. You just have to sit there and endure it, just like Cyd and Miranda. There’s another scene where Miranda throws a get-together for her and her author friends and we get what feels like an exhausting amount of readings from various guests at the party. I felt bored out of my mind and guess what? So did Cyd. The way they chose to portray this party forced me to feel empathy for Cyd wanting to leave it.
You could write a list of Cyd’s flaws and on paper, she may seem like an unlikable, insensitive brat. But Stephen Cone gives her tangible context masterfully intertwined with bits of movie magic and it comes together in such a way that I couldn’t help but be completely charmed with her.
Of course, this true-to-life way of storytelling has its downsides. There are a number of conversations between characters who don’t know each other very well and these scenes feel awkward and uncomfortable and I know that a lot of the individuals who saw it with me were not on board with that. There’s also some very dark, tragic aspects of the movie that seem completely out of place and came off as more bizarre than impactful.
Another curious thing about the movie is the relationship between Cyd and Katie(Malic White). The marketing pointed towards the romance as being the pièce de résistance but really it’s the relationship between Cyd and her aunt that steals the show. I do, however, consider the romance to be a very tender and compelling part, of course. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to not see the standard two pretty, dainty blonde girls in love™ relationship that Netflix has in abundance in their indie LGBT collection. I feel that it’s super important that masculine-presenting women get positive representation as well. (I also want LGBT+ women of color, please. PLEASE??? ANYONE???)
My main complaint with Katie is that she is nowhere near as realized as Cyd and Miranda. I am wrestling with the idea that maybe she isn’t supposed to be, as Cyd only knows her for a short amount of time, so we as the audience aren’t offered the privilege as well. So if this is intentional, I applaud it but if it’s not I demand Katie character development in the director’s cut.
The last thing I want to talk about is Rebecca Spence’s character, Miranda Ruth. I am not exaggerating when I say that her character is one of the most fully-realized characters I have seen in a movie, period. Her dialogue, her mannerisms, and her opinions, all felt intimately real and inviting. Both Cyd and the audience try to pigeonhole her initially but she doesn’t allow it. Princess Cyd looks like it’s going to be about an eccentric young woman who sweeps in and shakes the dust off a lonely writer’s life but instead, it looks us in the face and tells us that Miranda Ruth doesn’t need rescuing.
There’s a moment where Miranda looks in the mirror while naked and she smiles, because to hell with you, she’s content with how she looks. And in the most memorable scene of all, Cyd makes an insensitive joke about Miranda’s lack of a sex life, and Miranda delivers a speech so powerful I nearly fainted in my seat. Although there is a substantial amount of sex in the film, this speech makes one thing clear: Sex is not a qualification for happiness or fulfillment for everyone. Your definition of happiness or success is your own.
So no, Princess Cyd isn’t told in the story structure we’re comfortable with. It has loose ends and unanswered questions and feels more like a chapter than an entire story. But like happiness, and like fulfilment, cinema doesn’t have to stick to one recipe. And to me, this recipe turned out to be an unusual, but satisfying slice of cake.