As thousands of people continue to flock to New York City with hopes of actualizing their dreams, the cost of living and the difficulty of making it only increases. The new film “Where Is Kyra?” shines a rare and harsh light on the face of modern-day poverty in New York City as embodied by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Kyra Johnson (Pfeiffer) is a middle-aged and unemployed divorcee who has no other options but to move into her elderly, ailing mother’s Brooklyn apartment. She splits her days between taking care of her mother (Suzanne Shepherd) and submitting just about every job application she can get her hands on. Just as her life finds a kind of rhythm, she arrives home to find her mother dead, sending Kyra into a downward spiral.
The film soon develops a surrealist tone — shots of an eerily-dressed woman who looks like her mother, hobbling in slow motion, her cane exploding into a dramatic clash of symbols with each touchdown, are spliced with depictions of Kyra in her grieving aftermath. The audience is left to slowly piece the clues together. As we are shown her mother’s falsified death certificate, it soon becomes clear that Kyra, rendered hopeless by the oppression of poverty, is stealing her dead mother’s identity to cash her pension checks.
This morbid twist is unique and surprising, emphatically conveying Kyra’s level of anxious desperation. Kyra continues to push the limits of this temporary loophole — the window of opportunity decreasing all the while — even as her new boyfriend Doug (Kiefer Sutherland) implores her not to. And yet, as much as she tries to look elsewhere for legitimate work, with rent payments, bills and no income, she struggles to maintain her promise.
“Where Is Kyra?,” directed by Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu, is dimly lit and swimming in shadows. Exchanges of dialogue are just as sparse as musical interjections, which in turn emphasizes the absence and presence of both for tense, dramatic effect. The visual and sonal darkness of the film matches the increasingly bleak plotline as Kyra’s crimes grope after her. Sutherland plays a suffering yet hardworking foil to Pfeiffer, who succumbs to the easy option before her. Pfeiffer stuns as Kyra with her well-played despondency, obvious in her face and movements despite her silence.
The film takes a subtle yet unequivocal stance on poverty and its power to lead moral people down immoral paths. As Kyra’s once tidy, average American life disappears before her, she is left to dig herself out of the wreckage of her debts. This atypical representation of the mental toll of poverty is grippingly persuasive, making it an accurate on-screen portrayals of the effects of poverty in a specific situation.
“Where Is Kyra?” opened at The Quad at 34 W. 13th St. in New York on Friday, April 6.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 9 print edition. Email Jillian Harrington at [email protected]