Friday, June 16, 2023

Pretty Red Dress – dreams, desires and deceit, accompanied by Tina Turner tunes (Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 22 June)

Candice is auditioning to play Tina Turner in a new musical. She’s also holding down a job in a supermarket, keeping her relationship spiced up with partner Travis, and managing the teenage years as Mum to Kenisha. Life is physically and emotionally draining. While she’s swift to anger, she mellows over time.

Travis has spent the last year in prison. Newly released, he’s now trapped by his brother’s offer of the only job he’ll get but with a boss he could do without. His liberty is also coloured by the repressed parts of his character he doesn’t feel free to express in public: “I just like being pretty sometimes”. Keeping secrets leads to lying and cover-up, ramping up the tension in the family home.

Kenisha is exploring her own identity and friendships, second guessing what’s appropriate to share with her parents, sometimes caught up in their conflict and conspiracy. She’s the only one in the family not to be possessed by a love of wearing the titular dress, though its addition to the family wardrobe causes her pain and distress.

Pretty Red Dress is anchored by three great performances. From a marketing perspective, this is a film featuring the powerful vocals and acting of Alexandra Burke (X-Factor, The Bodyguard Musical, Sister Act Musical). Released less than a month after the death of Tina Turner, Pretty Red Dress will have added poignancy for fans of the rock queen and her song catalogue.

On the other hand, the camerawork – not least the lingering objectifying shots of Candice’s fragmented body parts that could give Nina Menkes examples for her next lecture – suggests that Travis (played by Natey Jones) is the real subject. This uneasy bifurcation creates a vortex that occasionally distracts from the plot as if director Dionne Edwards is hedging her bets between the two viable options.

There’s also a sense – planted by a song right at the start and the recurring extended audition sequences including a brilliant River Deep, Mountain High – that the film could be a try-out for a piece of juke-box musical theatre where the three different narrative threads of the nuclear family might more naturally play out over two acts, interspersed with Tina Turner’s greatest hits.

This is a film about dreams, desires and deceit. About intolerance, self-loathing, and masculinity and fitting in. It’s a great vehicle to demonstrate the acting prowess of Burke, Jones and Temilola Olatunbosun who plays Kenisha. It’s also a reminder that self-discovery isn’t a synonym for plain sailing, and that prejudice isn’t binary.

Pretty Red Dress is being screened at Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 22 June.

Enjoyed this review? Why not click on the Buy Me a Tea button!

No comments: