FANCY DANCE Review: Disappearance Leads to Discovery

Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, and Shea Whigham star in director Erica Tremblay's quietly affecting drama.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
FANCY DANCE Review: Disappearance Leads to Discovery

My mother is coming back, isn't she?

Fancy Dance
The film is now playing in select U.S. theaters. It will begin streaming Friday, April 28, exclusively on Apple TV+.

Two women eke out a meager existence while waiting for a third to return home.

By "meager," I mean they are lacking in the quantity of money available to them. Yet, they are happy, because they love each other.

Jax (Lily Gladstone) has taken charge of looking after 13-year old Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) since Jax's sister -- and Roki's mother -- disappeared, not that long before the film begins. They engage in petty theft on the reservation where they live in Oklahoma, where Jax's brother -- and Roki's uncle -- JJ (Ryan Begay) is the lead law enforcement officer.

The missing sister / mother has gone missing before. But with a significant powwow
on the horizon, Jax and, especially, Roki are quite a bit more anxious than they might be otherwise. To add to their natural anxiety and tension, Jax's father -- and Roki's grandfather -- Frank (Shea Whigham), along with his second wife Nancy (Audrey Wasilewski) shows up for the first time in years, with the idea of 'helping' the situation.

Directed by Erica Tremblay, making her feature directorial debut after helming two documentaries and two fiction shorts, from an original screenplay she wrote with Miciana Alise, Fancy Dance goes about its business in a calm, unfussy manner that never calls attention (stylistically) to itself, even as it builds its distinctive characters and deepens its story continually.

Fully capable of caring for herself and for others without making a big deal about it, Jax is slyly intelligent and surprisingly strong, belying her quiet manner of speech. She never broadcasts her intentions; she keeps that to herself, though from the fixed set of her expression, there is no doubt that she will accomplish what she means to do.

Roki is young and sweet, even as she is steadily building her own determination to do what she wants and needs to do. On the one hand, she is an obedient child; on the other hand, she is simply biding her time until she grows old enough to accomplish her own will.

All this comes through in the performances of Lily Gladstone and Isabel Deroy-Olson. Without being wildly dramatic, they steadily manifest aspects of their characters as the film progresses, so that by the end we have a wonderful portrait of two women at different stages of their lives who are nonetheless united in love, come what may.

Shea Whigham is always a pleasure to watch, and he buttresses every performance in the movie because he is an incredibly strong cornerstone, around which everyone else in his orbit can play. Erica Tremblay's direction is not flashy; instead, her visual storytelling is very strong, which is evident as early as the first sequence in the film and then, later, in a revelatory telephone call that is staged and framed with the utmost care and artistry to be truly devastating.

Quietly assured, Fancy Dance does not make a lot of noise as it flies, but soar it does, and it makes a perfect landing.

Fancy Dance

  • Erica Tremblay
  • Miciana Alise
  • Erica Tremblay
  • Lily Gladstone
  • Isabel Deroy-Olson
  • Ryan Begay
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Apple TV+Erica TremblayIsabel Deroy-OlsonLily GladstoneShea WhighamMiciana AliseRyan BegayDrama

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