I’ll admit; I watched Princess Cyd primarily on the basis of a review that made its synopsis sound a whole lot like Lady Bird, my current film crush. However, the thematic similarities between the two films begin and end with their focus on female familial relationships. Writer/director Stephen Cone’s understated narrative takes on the same inter-generational tensions, but in middle-class suburban Chigaco, between an aunt and niece over two weeks in the heat of summer.
Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is a headstrong sixteen-year-old soccer player. She lives with her struggling single father, after the death of her mother – a formative aspect of Cyd and her aunt’s relationship. At her dad’s suggestion, Cyd goes to stay with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in Chicago for a couple of weeks over the summer break, to give him a break and Miranda the chance to spend time with her niece. The pair get along, but clearly don’t know each other very well. Miranda is a little reserved, a Christian, and a successful author. Cyd is brash, charismatic, and, as she tells Miranda almost immediately, doesn’t care much to read. They are more than a little opposed in their general worldviews, and this isn’t something that the film brushes over. More than a few difficult conversations ensue, as Cyd probes her aunt blithely on her non-existent sex life, and why all of her books have such religious themes. She’s a typically curious teenager, but often oversteps her mark, which Miranda increasingly struggles with.
The film paints a stirringly honest portrait of two women trying to understand both each other and themselves. I immediately felt as though I recognised both women; if you haven’t been either of them, you probably know them. It’s a credit to Cone’s thoughtful writing and direction that despite their clashing characteristics, neither woman is made to play the villain. Cyd’s story also branches off in the direction of her own queer sexual awakening upon meeting cool local barista Katie. This isn’t something she’s afraid to talk to Miranda about and, refreshingly, this isn’t one of the many issues that come between the women. Cyd reaches out for the advice that she might have sought from her mother, and Miranda provides it with the gentle nuance it deserves. The film’s attitude towards sex is also wonderfully unconcerned, and takes a significant role in Cyd’s self-discovery without feeling intrusive or gratuitous.
As the leads, Jessie Pinnick and Rebecca Spence’s performances are understated when they need to be and even in the most tense moments of conflict between the two, they remain unobtrusive and thoughtful. I felt a strong affinity with both women for different reasons; Cyd’s romantic ventures, though a little rushed within the film’s short time frame, feel entirely authentic, and Miranda’s comfortable yet perhaps somewhat unadventurous lifestyle is equally fleshed out in her subtle pleasures and observations. A clash between the two after a party incites what I found to be the biggest truth punch of the film; Miranda lectures Cyd on the importance of finding your own joy. Neither woman needs to save the other from their habits, but simply understand that they can coexist as separate, fulfilled entities.
At times I felt Cone’s direction tried to take the film too far into the fairy-tale realms; the summery suburban imagery was dreamy enough without the repeated use of some rather whimsical slow-motion and gauzy colouring. It was pretty, but often a tad superfluous. The film had enough of an emotional impact upon me in its realism; I didn’t need the fanciful stylised details at all. I also wished for perhaps a little more time to develop Cyd and Katie’s subplot, particularly as the stakes rise quite dramatically towards the culmination of their story.
All in all – Princess Cyd is a lovely film for its simplicity, nuance, and depth of characterisation with a warmth of affection for its female subjects, particularly for a film by a male director. I’m hopeful that a trend of films putting the multitude of strains and joys of women’s bonds at the centre will continue well into 2018 and beyond.
Princess Cyd is currently streaming on Netflix.
Megan is a 19-year-old northerner currently studying film in London. She likes cats, old musicals, and films about lesbians who don’t die. Her favourite films include Carol, Moonlight, Singin’ in the Rain, and Matilda. Twitter: @bertmacklln