“Where Is Kyra?” follows a middle-aged jobless woman who, unable to find work, resorts to desperate methods to avoid eviction. Michelle Pfeiffer’s captivatingly forlorn lead performance and director Andrew Dosunmu’s visually striking depiction of the plight and humanity of older people battling poverty make this indie drama noteworthy.
Dosunmu, who directed “Restless City” and “Mother of George,” tells stories about marginalized New Yorkers who in despairing situations,make risky and troublesome choices. Working from a screenplay by “Mother of George” collaborator Darci Picoult, he combines social realism with cinematographer Bradford Young’s heightened hues and atmospheric camerawork.
Pfeiffer plays Kyra, a divorced unemployed bookkeeper who lives with and cares for her ailing elderly mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). Ruth’s pension checks pay the rent for the drab Brooklyn apartment.
It’s a lonely sliver of an existence, which Dosunmu and Young initially illustrate with long takes, medium-range shots, shadowy lighting and isolative compositions. Later come the close-ups of Kyra’s blank-looking face. This is a woman who has forgotten who she is.
Much of the drama consists of Kyra seeking work at dreary offices and greasy diners. She winds up distributing flyers, for a pittance.
Her situation worsens when Ruth dies. Unable to access her dead mother’s money and facing eviction, Kyra carries out a desperate scheme.
Some brightness occurs when Kyra begins a casual romance with Greg (Kiefer Sutherland), a somewhat more hopeful have-not. But, plagued with debt, she can’t maintain stability.
It’s just a slip of a story, really, and the expressive camerawork by Young, whose higher-profile projects include “Arrival,” upstages it sometimes.
Kyra, too, needs more development. We learn nothing about her shelved desires and dreams.
Still, Dosunmu presents a resonantly sad and socially substantial picture of economic hardship in ageist, cruelly capitalist times. His interest in Kyra’s decency, and that she deserves better, helps make the unrosy story accessible.
Hardly an action thriller, the film has suspense, which intensifies as police investigators pursue Kyra.
The recurrent appearance of a stooped elderly woman, accompanied by Philip Miller’s screechy score, adds intrigue, and symbolizes the predicament and near-invisibility of destitute older people.
Dosunmu has cited Depression-era documentary photography as an influence for this movie, and Pfeiffer, on that wavelength, provides a memorable modern-day portrait of poverty and its effect on one’s sense of self.
Without much to work with, Pfeiffer, who subtly expresses inner turmoil on her face, gives the movie a credible, sympathetic, charismatic protagonist.
Sutherland has little to do in a role that exists largely to prevent bleakness overload.
The cast also includes Sam Robards, appearing briefly as Kyra’s remarried ex.
Where Is Kyra?
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland, Suzanne Shepherd, Sam Robards
Written by: Darci Picoult
Directed by: Andrew Dosunmu
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Note: The movie opens April 13 at the Opera Plaza.