FAST COLOR is a really well made little movie I watched on Hulu. I didn’t really know what it was about, but remembered that when it came out last year there were people lamenting that it didn’t get enough attention. They called it a super hero origin story and felt that should’ve made it more marketable.
That description isn’t totally inaccurate, but sells it a little short, I think. It’s about a woman with some telekinetic type powers, but she doesn’t wear a costume, fight crime, fight super villains, or use her powers for heroism at all. She even explicitly says “We’re not super heroes,” and doesn’t seem to later change her mind about that. The story reminds me much more of FIRESTARTER than any comic book movie. Regular person made into a fugitive by being born with unusual gifts, running through small towns to avoid being a guinea pig for some secret government project.
The one super hero movie it did remind me of a little was LOGAN. Our person of power Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, JUPITER ASCENDING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) is on the run, pursued through dusty, small town desert areas, hiding out in a barn. It drops us into a near-future in which a mysterious eight-year drought has made water scarce and expensive. When Ruth checks in at a motel she pays the extra water charge and is handed a water cooler jug at the front desk. In her room there’s a sink with the faucet removed so she can pour from the jug to wash her hands. Whenever she goes into a grocery store or mini-mart the shelves are sparsely stocked – hard to make some of those products without water, I assume. It worked out well that I waited to watch this until I’d lived in a pandemic for months. The way everybody matter-of-factly lives by the new rules of this reality feels very familiar now.
It also made me think a little bit of THE TERMINATOR. It’s not as action-y, but it’s another movie with a mysterious protagonist pursued by a nefarious person, made very compelling through confident filmatism more than production value. The cinematographer is Michael Fimognari, who did several of Mike Flanagan’s movies, including DOCTOR SLEEP, and the production designer is Gae S. Buckley (OPEN RANGE, BOBBY Z, THE BOOK OF ELI). I like this style of storytelling – simple, but it starts in the middle, carefully holds back certain information, never explains anything in an obvious way, lets you enjoy putting it together on your own. We know pretty quick that Ruth has powers that are dangerous, and that she can’t really control. She wears a rope as a belt in case she needs it to tie herself up, which might subdue but doesn’t completely stop the earthquake caused by her out of control powers. That she does that tells us something about her values, as does the fact that she calls ahead to warn the front desk, knowing it will get her into more trouble.
She flees to a farm where her arrival is a surprise, and not entirely welcome. We will figure out the woman who lives here, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint, Almond Joy from HUDSON HAWK), is Ruth’s mom. And Bo is raising Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney, HIDDEN FIGURES, FENCES), who doesn’t remember her. Bo and Lila have powers too, but less dangerous ones, “parlor tricks,” Bo claims. There’s a beautiful moment of peace before Ruth arrives. Bo is relaxing on the porch at night, listening to Nina Simone, smoking a cigarette, which she then turns into a little cloud of floating ashes and embers, swirling like a glowing, three-dimensional work of abstract art.
On the farm the story slows down and becomes more character drama, Ruth trying to make amends with her mother and get to know and understand her daughter, all under threat of the impending arrival of the dorky, psychotic government scientist Bill (Christopher Denham, ARGO) who wants to study her abilities. Each of the mothers share some of their history with their daughter; Bo reading from a journal passed down from previous generations, Ruth showing off her favorite records (Lauryn Hill, more Nina Simone, X-Ray Spex.) The soundtrack is eclectic – there’s kind of a redneck bar playing Beat Happening on the jukebox.
I like how casually female-centric it is. It’s the women in this family who inherit the powers, but it’s unclear how many men were ever in the family. A wall of photos shows, as far as I could tell, only women. There’s one sympathetic male character, though – Ellis (David Strathairn, THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET). He’s the town sheriff, but he seems cool.
It’s directed by Julia Hart (MISS STEVENS, STARGIRL), and she co-wrote it with her husband Jordan Horowitz (who I will always remember as the LA LA LAND producer who announced to the confused crowd that there had been a mistake and MOONLIGHT had actually won best picture). They’re reportedly developing an Amazon series now, which could be cool. It seems like there’s more to explore, and it probly wouldn’t seem smaller or cheaper than the movie, since it’s fairly low on spectacle, its FX budget mostly just going to pretty psychedelic colors.
For what it’s worth, Hart does call it a super hero movie, saying in the production notes, “I wanted to tell a story that had women and mothers as superheroes. So much of the superhero iconography is male-dominated. It’s about destruction. It’s about creating a bunch of buildings and then blowing them up to save the world. I wanted to tell the female version of that, which is to create something in order to save the world.”
In one way, super hero movies are like zombie movies: everybody says there are too many of them, but they keep proving themselves pliable. I like that the subject allows for both of the destruction approach, and the creation approach, and many other approaches in between and outside of them.
I still think this is more like FIRESTARTER, though.
June 30th, 2020 at 1:05 pm
I thought the first 3/4 of this was incredible and seemed custom-made for me – a great performance by one of my favorite actresses (Mbatha-Raw), a slow-burn Terrence Malick-y aesthetic, and I think there might have even been hints of Philip Glass in the score if I remember. But then things just start going more and more downhill and I found myself kinda bored by the finale, where Hart’s thesis of “women create instead of destroy” gets literalized in such a ham-fisted way that I just mentally checked out of the movie.
I still wouldn’t mind a return to this world or checking out Hart’s next film, even though if I remember there was some controversy about Hart being white, telling a story about black women. Because you can’t please everybody, apparently.