At their start, children are nothing but raw potential. As they grow, they are either lean into their potential or they run from it. Sometimes it’s a reaction to their environment, sometimes it’s in their nature, but it informs who they become as adults. When those children become parents, a change occurs wherein they may see themselves as they were (new, young, and curious), and in trying to prevent their children from making the same mistakes, set a new generation on the path of old. Inspired by parenthood, director and co-writer Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) developed Fast Color, a film which examines three generations of women in their various physical and metaphysical stages. Though each of the women are gifted with abilities beyond the norm, don’t confuse Fast Color for a standard superhero tale. This isn’t a story in which heroes level cities in their quest to defeat evil, but is one of unconditional love, creation, and sacrifice.
Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) suffers from seizures. Normally this could be treated with medicine, but her’s don’t just cause her to convulse, they shake the earth under her feet as she uncontrollably moves the tectonic plates beneath her. With nowhere left to turn, Ruth makes her way home, a place she left behind years ago. There, her mother Bonnie (Lorraine Toussaint) cares for her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), encouraging her curiosity and training Lila in the ways of her ability. On the way, Ruth runs into a scientist working for the government who’s become aware of Ruth’s earthquaking power and, in her escape, accidentally clues him in on her hometown, inadvertently putting her family at risk.
One watch of Fast Color is all it takes to figure out why Lionsgate didn’t know what to do with this film. In the last year, Lionsgate’s released John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Anna, Hellboy, and Long Shot. All of these films are straight-forward in their genres or possess built-in audiences. Fast Color is undeniably unique in its construction and execution as it piles metaphor onto metaphor until it’s constipated with ideas before bursting literally and metaphorically. There are but two gunshots in the entire picture as the rest is strictly character-focused and character-driven with a little illusion thrown in for good measure. While not a film which falls in line with the other releases mentioned, Fast Color’s uniqueness constructed an ability to stand out from the pack of films arriving in theaters April 2019, except that it was sandwiched between Hellboy, Avengers: Endgame, and a slew of other hot ticket films, resulting in virtually no theaters running the film and no audiences experiencing Hart and co-writer/producer Jordan Horowitz’s family-centric story. Thankfully, a home release may turn the tide and give Fast Color the audience it deserves.
To call Fast Color layered is an understatement. Virtually everything on screen is a metaphor for something else, which enables Hart and Horowitz to tell an intimate story within a seemingly larger one. For example, each of the main characters — Ruth, Bonnie (called Bo), and Lila — are gifted with abilities to deconstruct an object and reconstruct it. The after effect being that they see colors pouring out from the world around them each time they do. It grants them a sense of connectedness and peace. There is one rule all the generations of women understand, which is that objects they deconstruct can only be placed back as it was, if something is broken, it remains broken. This places limitations on their abilities and establishes a type of grounding. These powers are innate to these women and come to represent the potential for growth, expansion, and healing that women are capable of. Their powers don’t harm, but are capable of nurturing. In Ruth’s case, at some point she loses this ability resulting in earth-shaking seizures. Fast Color offers no concrete explanation for this, and it requires none, as Ruth herself is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic and the seizures represent an internal conflict for which Ruth must overcome. Her mother, Bo, played wonderfully by Toussaint, represents the generations which came before Ruth, living in the family home and raising Lila, mentoring her as best she can. Lila is the future, curious, malleable, and on the cusp of her own teenage rebellion. These women are not their powers, but the powers represent a natural capacity for birth and revival, of support and sustenance. When these women are in sync with themselves, their powers reflect the balance and similarly when not.
But remember, Fast Color isn’t a superhero story. It’s a story of family, reconnection, and ending cycles. Hart drills this home with some wonderful direction and set design using still camera work. In one scene, Bo makes her way up the stairs to her bedroom. The camera holds still as Toussaint makes her way into frame, moving around within it, and disappears in her room. The stillness of the camera evokes a calmness of the character, while also offering a sense of a living space. In contrast, when the camerawork bounces slightly, Hart’s cluing the audience in that they are seeing someone’s perspective of a moment. It’s subtle, but a slick way to clue the audience to when there’s an observer and when the characters are alone. In terms of set design, production designer Gae S. Buckley (The Book of Eli) created distinct looks between the world at large and the family home. Outside the property, Earth is barren due to an extended 8-year drought. Capturing this in the daylight, the world is a dusty brown, the sky’s blue but barren, and buildings are mostly empty. In contrast, within the family home, healthy earth tones abound, pictures of generations of women adorn the home, and the night sky glows blue against the house’s piercing yellow interior light. On the property, there is hope and love, while outside people just try to get by with what they have. Extending outward from the characters and their story of imbalance, the world mirrors their conflict, resulting in metaphor upon metaphor until it all comes rushing together in the end.
For those seeking to expand upon the cinematic experience, the bonus features are few, but meaty. Hart and Horowitz provide commentary for the full-feature, offering thoughts and insights on the production. Not all directors or writers provide commentary, so getting to hear their thoughts on this personal project is a particular treat. The only other offering besides trailers for other Lionsgate releases is “A Mother’s Power: Making Fast Color,” a featurette wherein the cast and crew discuss everything from how they became involved in the project to concept creation for the narrative to costume design. For example, Elizabeth Warn (Charlie Says and the upcoming The Mountain) discusses how Ruth’s interest in punk music became the inspiration for her clothing. One might assume that Ruth’s journey of self-destruction and rehabilitation on the road were the reason for her more tattered, worn look, but Warn explains how Ruth continues to express her teenage ideals as an adult via her clothes. These are just some of the small details within Fast Color which make the world seem alive and lived in.
For many audiences, the typical complaint is the hegemony present in theaters. Fast Color is a vibrant and emotional change of pace from the atypical. It’s an action film with little action. It’s a superpower story more interested in what the powers mean than what they do. It’s a film focused on a family of women, each with a different valuable perspective, who rise up because they can and for themselves. Everything about Fast Color is life affirming and positive, even when it explores the darker moments of humanity through Ruth. It’s perhaps not too off to presume that Hart and Horowitz want their audiences to know that, like Bo, Ruth, and Lila, they too possess the potential to change the world. We need only recognize what we possess within.
Available on digital June 18th, 2019.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD July 16th, 2019.
Blu-ray and Digital Bonus Features
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Julia Hart and Writer/Producer Jordan Horowitz
- A Mother’s Power: Making Fast Color Featurette
Final (Film) Score: 4 out of 5.