And Then There Was Eve Review
And Then There Was Eve (2017) Film Review, a movie directed by Savannah Bloch, and starring Tania Nolan, Mary Holland, Karan Soni, Mike Erwin, Jenica Bergere, John Kassir, Dominic Bogart, Crystal Marie Denha, Rachel Crowl, Jack Cullison, Isley Reust, Alixzandra Dove, Conrad Roberts, Christine Weatherup, and Anne Gee Byrd.
It’s only been three years since Time magazine announced the “transgender tipping point” on its cover, but much has changed within that relatively short span of time. Even if one overlooks the heated debates over topics like whether transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, the question of transgender identity has become undeniably prevalent in our culture, as evidenced by the massive response to such events as Amazon’s groundbreaking series Transparent and Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out interview on 20/20. It’s against this social backdrop that Savannah Bloch’s And Then There Was Eve arrives, capitalizing on the interest in the subject but taking it in daring, new directions. Chronicling the explosive fallout of LA photographer Alyssa (Tania Nolan) learning that her husband is transgender, the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival LA Muse competition winner uses flashbacks and a mystery set-up to explore the relationship between the strained couple.
Although one would be remiss to judge it on a purely aesthetic level, it would be just as easy to conclude that the movie signals the emergence of a potent new voice. The direction and cinematography bear the mark of deep thought on Bloch’s part, and the smallest moments are pregnant with meaning. Throughout the film are two subjects that seem to keep popping up – Alyssa preparing food or photographing children at work. On their own, scenes of her grabbing a carrot from the fridge trying to get a stubborn child to smile for their picture may seem frivolous, but when the climax rolls around we finally understand the significance of them: Eve (Rachel Crowl) came out to Alyssa over dinner one night, prompting a hostile response on her part motivated in no small part by her desire to have children of her own some day. Every shot of her dumping an unfinished meal into the trash or talking with parents of kids she took photos of is a fragmentary reminder of this traumatic episode, something the movie cleverly acknowledges when a member of Alyssa’s counseling group off-handedly says “food is a trigger” while discussing her own predicament without realizing it’s just as pertinent to Alyssa’s.
The way in which Alyssa’s mental illness is not simply a part of the plot but a part of the film’s form itself works to differentiate it from other movies revolving around characters with mental health issues. The seamless transitions between conversations with Eve and others to haunting memories of her past with her husband before coming out as Eve make the “unreality” of Alyssa’s life that she describes to her group comprehensible to viewers, allowing us to empathize and thus connect with her further. On top of this, the fact that her husband’s face is concealed in these memories until the very end strengthens the ethereal tone of these sequences, with his arms gently caressing her as he speaks softly to her off-screen.
Even light and sound are used to convey the strain and character of Alyssa’s condition. In fact, the score tells as much of a story as the movie proper does, using a jarring combination of jazz and Eastern music bearing the smoky cymbal strikes, mournful horns, and discordant droning sounds respective of each genre that is strangely evocative of the haze hanging over her life. Even the white light that is used to transition Alyssa from reality to unreality conveys meaning, blinding viewers like she has been by her trauma and forcing them to put the pieces of her memory – and thus her life – back together like she has to.
But even a movie as rich in form as Eve needs a capable cast to anchor the plot and make the audience care about the story that the form under-girds. Thankfully, the actresses and actors here are more than up to the task: Nolan is utterly amazing in that she not only portrays a solid lead as Alyssa but seems to have found the perfect pace at which to peel back the successful photographer persona she embodies and reveal the deep psychological injury within bit by bit over the course of the movie.
Crowl, on the other hand, portrays Eve as remarkably well-adjusted after being so coldly rejected by her wife in what is a surprising but welcome departure from most transgender dramas. Whereas most such movies zero in on problems directly arising from their characters’ struggles to transition, Eve is unique in that she seems to have transitioned perfectly fine and is in a position to help Alyssa overcome her illness. This is a far cry from the guilty liberal idea so deeply entrenched in much of cinema (and that I described in my review of They Will Have To Kill us First) that transgender people, like other minority groups, are eternal victims of eternal problems and that there is not much one can really do besides patronize and pity them. In a cultural milieu where the word “empowering” is tossed like confetti at the smallest achievement, Crowl’s Eve genuinely is.
Yet there’s another pleasant casting surprise in the form of John Kassir, who unexpectedly appears as Eve’s psychologist. Although we believe that she is seeing him to get help with issues stemming from her identity, we eventually realize that she is there because she needs advice as to helping nurse Alyssa back to health. It’s only a supporting role, but seeing the Tales from the Crypt star onscreen – and in a dramatic role no less – is a nice treat.
Of course, this review barely scratches the surface of what is one of the most original, unconventional movies to come out this year. The twists and turns make it play out like an old noir thriller, and there is as much humor as there is heart here. A game changer in terms of story as well as structure, And Then There Was Eve is an exciting development that anyone who considers themselves a serious scholar of film should see.
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