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Nancy (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 8, 2020


NANCY (2018)

Starring Andrea Riseborough, Ann Dowd, Steve Buscemi, J. Smith-Cameron, John Leguizamo, Samrat Chakrabarti, Marinda Anderson, Jamie Angelle, Lorenzo Beronilla, Owen Campbell, Olli Haaskivi, René Ifrah, James Karpowicz, Virginia Kull, Linda Kutrubes, Ann Lucente and T. Sahara Meer.

Screenplay by Christina Choe.

Directed by Christina Choe.

Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. 87 minutes. Not Rated.

There are so many wounded and disturbed people who look for validation on the internet. It’s a sad fact of modern life. People use the anonymity of the internet to try to reinvent themselves, to be someone different than they are in the dull light of reality.

It is an interesting and sometimes rather tragic aspect of modern life. But, is it necessarily a cinematic one?

Perhaps it is. The new independent film Nancy takes a hard look at one of those nameless faceless catfish, showing us who she is, what she does, some of the contributing factors and what damage she may have wrought.

This woman is the title character, played by Andrea Riseborough of The Death of Stalin. Nancy lives in a bleak, cluttered house in upstate New York with her mother (Ann Dowd). Mom is often harsh and distant, but Nancy must care for her because she has Parkinson’s Disease. Her life is full of bleary days, dead-end temp gigs, and taking care of mom.

Nancy is a bruised, rather odd woman in her mid-thirties. She has mousy hair, rarely bothers to get dressed up or put on makeup. In conversation, her eyes are in constant motion, as if she is planning an escape, and her face is almost inevitably cringing as if she expects for everyone to lash out at her.

Her one escape is online. She creates blogs under assumed names and gets into imagined relationships with the people she meets online. In her own odd way, she is trying to help the people, however things always seem to explode. One early example shows her meeting up with one of her internet friends, a grieving father (John Leguizamo) who lost his daughter. Trying to make him feel life is worth continuing, she claims to have lost her child and be having another one – she even wears a fake pregnancy belly. However, eventually a chance meeting blows her story out of the water.

Still, she lies freely and meaninglessly. She goes to great lengths to prove her falsehoods. In a new job at a dental office in a run-down strip mall she tells her new co-workers that she has just returned from a trip to North Korea. When a co-worker notes that it is almost impossible for people who are not diplomats to get into North Korea, Nancy shrugs and says it is easy, showing a series of pictures on her phone of her “in Korea.”

Things come to a head when her mother dies. Soon afterwards she sees a nice middle-aged couple on the news. Their little girl had disappeared thirty years earlier, and they are speaking to reporters to make sure their case is not forgotten, even all these years later. They show an artist’s rendering of what the child would probably look like now.

Nancy calls the couple, saying that she thinks she may be their daughter.

It is a hard position for the audience to be in. Nancy is obviously a liar. We’ve seen this. However, what could she possibly have to gain by intruding on these people’s lives? These are good, caring people who are still reeling from the uncertainty of the tragedy thirty years later. What good could it possibly do to rip the scab from the wound?

The wife embraces Nancy immediately, desperate to believe that her daughter has returned home. The husband is more circumspect. He knows his wife has been hurt by false alarms before. He wants to get proof – hire a private eye to investigate it, take DNA tests, question the strange woman who suddenly just appeared in his life claiming to be his long-lost daughter.

And honestly, Nancy really does look like the artist’s sketch of what the girl would look like if at her current age.

It’s not possible that she really is the daughter, is it?

Of course, I won’t spoil that reveal. In some ways, the answer to that question is beside the point. Nancy is a meeting of some very damaged people, and it asks big questions about what is real and fake in a “post-fact” world. It also brings up another important conundrum, is a fantasy better than reality sometimes?

Watching Nancy is a very uncomfortable experience, for many reasons. However, it is also rather fascinating. I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the film, but I am glad that I saw it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: June 15, 2018.

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