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Tribeca 2017: The Drama Queens of "Blame"

Nathaniel R catching up with Tribeca Film Festival

photo by Jacqueline Harriet for Constellation Magazine

These women pictured above, left to right, are Quinn Shephard and Nadia Alexander. You should probably learn their names. They're the leading ladies of Tribeca hit Blame. Nadia Alexander picked up the festival jury's Best Actress prize. Not that Quinn Shephard is a slouch in that department. Or any department. Get this -- Shephard wrote, directed, produced, stars in, and edited Blame. Whew. More impressively, she did all of those things well! Will the cinema's leading 20something DIYer Xavier Dolan feel threatened or be all 'plz, she didn't have the energy to do the costume design, too? Slacker!'

Shephard plays Abigail Grey, a student who returns to her high school as something of a pariah after some sort of mental break (that the movie wisely never spells out in detail). Nadia plays Melissa Bowman, a promiscuous Mean Girl who sees Abigail as an opportunity for Queen Bee target practice. After their substitute drama teacher (Chris Messina) chooses Abigail over Melissa for a staged reading of The Crucible, though, the petty war deepens. Caught in their war zone are insecure Sophie (Sarah Mezzanotte), observant Ellie (Tessa Albertson, terrific in a subtle buffer role between all the weaponized personalities), Melissa's callous boytoys (Luke Slattery and Owen Campbell) and the teacher himself who becomes too attached to Abigail. It's a mark of the movie's firm grass on characterization and connectivity that Messina's relationship with Abigail seems inevitable and organically contradictory rather than predatory and easy to judge. Abigail and Melissa's separate pathologies, or emotional problems if you're feeling generous, are a combustible mix. Tick tick boom. 

In synopses there are a lot of things about Blame that shouldn't work. It's easy, for example, to describe each character with just one personality adjective (though that does disservice to the strong performances), and its bald connect-the-dots passion for both The Crucible and Sybil, its primary in-narrative literary references, have the potential to derail the whole project with a kind of term paper pretentiousness. Somehow, Shephard mostly pulls this ambitious juggling act off. Yes, it's a bit precious but in that endearing and highly specific 'theater kid brimming with talent' kind of way.

I'm still not sure about the ending, but the title resonates. Blame wants us to think about The Crucible in which a lot of fingers are pointed, impotently and hysterically, though not often at the right targets. Blame's psychosexual hurtfulness and theatrical victimhood leaves a lot of mess to tidy up. If this confident movie is unsure of anything it's how much of the cleaning to do before the credits and how much to leave for the audience. Still, it's easy to admire the broken pieces as you try to sweep it up yourself.

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Reader Comments (1)

I love that females are really coming into they own.

I just read where Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen are starting a movie. That and many others seem to be coming to the fore. We have to thank Meryl Streep for really leading the way for this to happen. Read where people are saying HER AGAIN, but she deserves the praise IMO.

May 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterK

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