Left piecing together information similar to collecting the “bits of string” referenced in the beautiful and slightly haunting opening voice-over narration of Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her, we begin to uncover the ways in which the film’s cinematically absent parents have carried over to the next generation in the form of two grown sisters reunited for the anniversary of a tragedy.
Whether it’s in the way that the men in the lives of Kaya and Emmie (Deirdre Herlihy) subtly get them talking about the personality and physical traits they’ve inherited from their famous musician father or deceased mother or in the way that one sister prefers to bluntly tackle a topic while the other eases into it in the film, it becomes apparent that the two have decidedly different ways of viewing and living their lives.
And in his depiction of the two women, writer/director/producer/co-star Ryan Andrew Balas very cleverly manages to skirt the issue of race altogether as regardless of the fact that Kaya is black and Emmie is white, as to his immense credit, he opts to instead avoid specifics and just let their personalities and the immediately strong bond that the female cast-mates have with one another speak for itself.
With Balas portraying Kaya’s long-term photographer boyfriend Rowan and independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg appearing as Emmie’s recently encountered new beau Brandon whom she met on the bus ride from New York to Michigan, the film essentially centers on the quartet as they both deal with and avoid the true and tragic reason they’re spending time together at their father’s summer home.
The screen time of the succinct eighty-five minute work is filled out with rambling conversations and enough sex to the point that admittedly it begins bordering on gratuitous before we even get to the halfway point. Yet Balas’ at times meandering portrait “of the new American family unit” is nonetheless augmented by cinematographer Richard Buonagurie’s breathtaking lensing and its highly authentic portrayals that especially offers lead actress Herlihy several moments to truly shine.
As the character with whom audiences can most relate, the quiet power and tender tenacity of the actress playing Kaya is a marvel throughout. However, from tearfully recounting a dream she’d had of her mom or candidly confronting Balas’s Rowan about how his modern photography will begin to support her sister, it’s Herlihy whose scenes will linger long after the film ends.
Fortunately, Balas nicely balances out the somber tone with some inventive matter-of-fact humor that works extremely well in a painfully awkward extended sequence as the naturally funny Brandon (Swanberg) and the clumsy Rowan (Balas) attempt to hang out while waiting for their lovers.
Illustrating his extraordinary promise as a filmmaker, Balas’s production is able to keep us thoroughly invested even though we find ourselves wishing that some of the connective string like the dropped voice-over or other dialogue driven plot-strands had been better pieced together to ensure that Everyone Says remained narratively strong from start to finish.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.