The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - PRINCESS CYD | The Movie Waffler


princess cyd review
A teenager spends a fortnight with her aunt, a popular novelist.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Stephen Cone

Starring: Rebecca Spence, Jessie Pinnick, Malic White, James Vincent Meredith, Tyler Ross, Matthew Quattrocki

princess cyd poster

Unless your name is Orson Welles or Ludwig van Beethoven, chances are you weren't the worldliest of teenagers. That's nothing to be ashamed of; your teen years are the time when you're supposed to revel in ignorance and idiocy, the last time society lets you get away with such a worldview. American movies however would have you believe that teens, especially teenage girls, have all the answers. How many movies have you seen in which adults learn life lessons from people whose skulls have barely hardened?

The prolific writer-director Stephen Cone's Princess Cyd thankfully throws out this old cliché, presenting us with such an honest, realistic and identifiable portrayal of a teen that it almost feels revolutionary.

princess cyd review

Like most teens, the titular 16-year-old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) thinks she knows it all. She knows her looks give her a power over the opposite sex; she's figured out that God probably doesn't exist; and she knows she can walk into the centre of any room and immediately become its focus, revelling in the privileged position of her age group that allows her to avoid being judged on her achievements.

When her father and stepmother wish to get away for a couple of weeks, Cyd is foisted on her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence), a popular novelist and sister of Cyd's mother, who died when she was eight (the movie opens with the audio of a 911 call in which Cyd's neighbours discover 'bodies' in her house).

Though bonded by blood, Cyd and Miranda are wildly different personalities. Cyd takes refuge in sensual pleasures, running for miles and getting lost in her new Chicago surrounds, and exploring her sexuality with barista Katie (Malic White) and the son of Miranda's neighbours. Miranda is more at home either writing her own books or burying her nose in those of other writers. Slowly, both women's personalities begin to influence each other.

princess cyd review

Cone turns several stereotypes on their heads. In contrast to how the media often portrays America's third largest city, Chicago is presented here as a leafy paradise, populated by friendly intellectuals who leave books out for passersby to retrieve from makeshift libraries on their lawns. It's as much in contrast with the gang-infested hellscape news networks proffer as Woody Allen's New York was in that city's troubled era of the '70s and '80s.

America is the world's most Christian country, but you'd never know it from its mainstream cinema. When a character is revealed to be religious in an American movie it's usually a shortcut for mad and dangerous. Princess Cyd's Miranda, like most Americans, is a practicing Christian, and a perfectly well-rounded individual regardless. In another of Cone's reversal of stereotypes, it's Southerner Cyd who is the skeptic, finding her Northern aunt's beliefs quaint.

princess cyd review

But the most striking and applaudable abandoning of formula is how Cone gives us a movie in which an adult stands up to an arrogant teen who believes they have life figured out a quarter of a century ahead of their elder. In an instantly memorable scene, following one too many derogatory comments from Cyd about her aunt's lack of a sex life, Miranda loses her cool and calls out the teen for her naive hubris. What makes the scene such a standout is how Cyd clearly isn't taking in the advice her aunt is giving her, because we don't at that age.

In the movement to have more female viewpoints represented in film, the well-intentioned but misguided idea that artists should stick to portrayals of their own genders has been proposed from some quarters. Princess Cyd exposes such an idea as nonsense, boasting two of the most tangibly real women seen in recent cinema. In a late scene, an audience member at a Q+A thanks Miranda for the fictional women she's created. He's really using the moment to thank the women he's known in his own life, and I suspect this is what Cone is doing with this very film. I'll follow his lead, and thank Cone for the women he has created here.

Princess Cyd is on MUBI UK now.