Fast Color (2019)

7 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a star on the rise. I just know in my heart that a Hollywood director or producer is going to discover her excellent leading performance in Julia Hart’s “Fast Color” and  hire her in a mainstream studio film, whether it be a comedy or a sci-fi epic or the next Marvel movie, that will give her more exposure. She deserves the attention, as does “Fast Color.”

In the film, Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth, a young woman on the run because she has superhuman abilities—because, where there’s someone who has superpowers, there’s always some secret government agency that wants to hunt them down, capture them, and lock them up. (If these people would watch “Stranger Things,” in which the government agents get their brains smushed by telekinesis, they’d at least consider the option of offering them positions to help make the world a better place…as long as they don’t hound them for it.) She has violent seizures that cause earthquakes, even in places where there shouldn’t be earthquakes. And she has trouble controlling them. When she was a teenager, one of her seizures nearly caused the death of a family member and she left her mother’s house and never looked back.

Years later, she travels from place to place, always on the run, in fear that she’ll hurt somebody with another seizure and that someone in power will find her and take her away. Early in the film, she finds that her fear is justified, as she gets a ride from who she thinks is a kind stranger but is really a government agent who, of course, wants to take her with him. She fights back as soon as he holds up a syringe, and she finds there’s nowhere else to go but back home.

This is also set in a dying world where it hasn’t rained in years (and water is a precious commodity)—in a refreshing change of pace, these government slimeballs aren’t seeking mutants just because they’re afraid of their powers or because they think they’re interesting; instead, it’s to see if they can use their mysterious powers to bring the world back to life. How they go about it, however, could be worked on—will these people ever learn?

Anyway, Ruth returns to her childhood home, a farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. She’s reunited with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint, fantastic here), who is stern and overprotective, especially of her adolescent granddaughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Ruth is Lila’s mother and hasn’t seen Lila since she was a baby, and now, this is an opportunity to mother, daughter, and granddaughter to connect as a family.

Oh, and Bo and Lila have their own abilities as well. It also seems Lila has mastered her abilities way better than Ruth could ever attempt, which leads to interesting conversations between the two, which leads to a few sweet dramatic moments together. We also understand Bo’s reasoning to protect Lila as she tried to protect Ruth long ago—sometimes, she even has to protect Lila from Ruth, whether Ruth intends harm or not. And Ruth learns to see the bright side in her own abilities, which she never wanted in the first place.

All three are compelling, well-defined characters that keep the film at a grounded level. And the direction from Julia Hart (whose previous film was the comedy-drama “Miss Stevens”) helps make the film more than it could have been. It feels like a superhero origin story with real people.

Where this intriguing dynamic of three different generations of supernatural abilities leads, I’ll leave for you to discover. All I can say is I thought I was going to be disappointed. Instead, I was left with much to discuss with someone else who has seen it. (And I’ll be showing this film to my fiancee Kelly, for sure. Can’t wait to discuss it with her.)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is at the center of “Fast Color,” and her performance, which has a great blend of vulnerability, confusion, and anger, is the kind that should gain a lot of awards attention (but probably won’t, sadly). But I get the feeling something bigger is in store for her. And she deserves it. She’s great in this film, she’s been great in other films (“Beyond the Lights,” “The Cloverfield Paradox”), and she’ll be great in many others to come.

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