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The Eggshell Aunt: Edward Shults’ ‘Krisha’ shows family at its holiday worst


Krisha

Film Scene — Opens Friday, Apr. 15

Krisha
Krisha opens at FilmScene on Friday, Apr. 15

From a distance, your family Thanksgiving may not look all that different from that of director Trey Edward Shults, as portrayed in Krisha, his debut feature. Your family might similarly assign the men to the living room to monitor sporting events while the women huddle in the kitchen discussing cooking techniques, all of which are intricately cross-referenced to a great aunt or grandmother. Younger male family members, sometimes shirtless, will do absurd indoor sportish stuff: arm wrestling contests, living room tennis, wrestling in jean shorts, attempting to hit tennis balls with a golf club, frolicking with dogs. There will be the attempts to hook up assorted new electronics and the resulting intergenerational turmoil. Random hugs will be exchanged and quiet one-on-one conversations will occur with people to whom you feel a connection, but still somehow only talk to once a year. These quiet connections will still somehow be the whole point of the gathering. The cynical, chain-smoking brother-in-law will lighten the mood. And then, someone will overcook the turkey. We have all been here — and Shults treats the touchstones of the familiar and dreaded family gathering with a shrugging warmth and a fastidious attention to detail, most likely born from years of close personal observation.

Less familiar is what happens when Aunt Krisha shows up. Krisha Fairchild, who plays the title character (and is also the director’s actual aunt), clearly has some issues, not limited to the fact that, inexplicably, she has recently lost a finger. Though she is working on becoming, as her nephew says, a “more spiritual person,” she is nonetheless largely estranged from her sister’s family, since she hasn’t seen them in over a decade (Krisha’s laconic brother-in-law describes her as “a leaver, an abandoner — heartbreak incarnate”). She is also an alcoholic and drug addict, keeping the key to her medical prescription box on a string around her neck, buried deep in the voluptuous recesses of her 60-year-old cleavage. Over the short course of this film, the key gets quite a workout.

As is appropriate to a film about family dynamics at the holidays, the atmospherics are key. Brian McOmber’s rattling, shambolic soundtrack here is amazing — it even, at points, incorporates the oven timer. Shults wisely provides extended parts of the film where he just lets the soundtrack do the talking, making the character interactions like a wordless music video. Most notable is a segment near the middle of the film in which he lets Nina Simone’s “Just in Time” serve as background for the silent revelation of many of the character conflicts which underlie the film’s tension. Ironically for Krisha, she is hardly “just in time;” she is in fact more than a decade too late.

Throughout Krisha, Shults asks his audience to consider the true meaning of family — does it indeed survive over time, through ragged mistreatment and misdeeds, or are we allowed to accept people on their own merits or demerits, despite the fact that we are related? Late in the film (really, the last five minutes are packed), Krisha describes herself as “the one everyone is on eggshells for,” and then discloses another brutal secret which, though honestly a little too Falcon Crest for my taste, serves to refocus the meaning of the entire film. Shults is remarkably sure handed for a first-time director; his attention to detail is rewarding and the movie’s pacing is nearly perfect. Though we might not learn any really new lessons about family dynamics, we emerge from Krisha with a new sympathy for the weirdos and strugglers in our own families and an appreciation for the people that may lie beneath their problematic personalities. Family at the holidays may be family at its absolute worst, but may also be the only shot at family that we have.

Krisha is playing at Film Scene starting this Friday. See their website for showtimes and tickets.


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