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by Jay Seaver

"Well put-together."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Roughly a minute or so into "Fashionista", I could feel my eyes start to roll as the opening credits not only cut to a similarly-framed shot of Amanda Fuller's April with a different outfit for each new name put up, but the soundtrack changed as well (my notes say something along the lines of "oh, this is just precious!"). It works, I suppose, as shock therapy to get the audience used to the way director Simon Rumley puts his movie together, taking a lot of distinct moments and putting them next to each other without obvious transitions and trusting that the audience will see the through-line even on the first time through.

April (Amanda Fuller) has more than enough outfits to make that happen; she and her boyfriend Eric (Ethan Embry) run the Austin second-hand shop that bears his name and the overstock fills their apartment. It's alarming to see, really, but seems relatively benign until a few things start to threaten that status quo, like when Eric starts taking trips to Dallas to discuss opening a location there with the uncle of cute customer-turned-employee Sherry (Alexandria DeBerry), leading to some fierce arguments. It's after one of those that she meets Randall (Eric Balfour), a well-to-do man with fingers in some unsavory pies and whose own clothing obsessions complement April's. Soon he's paying for fancy, designer outfits, and it's a big change for someone who so closely identifies with her outfits.

The big idea at the center, how April's creative fashion sense comes across as fun and cool and hides a tendency toward hoarding and addiction, is kind of fascinating. Lots of movies link creativity and addiction in a way that positions the latter as the necessary side-effect of the former, and in April's case it goes further because she often seems to literally be creating herself. In her mind, how she presents herself is a large part of who she is, and the wardrobe upgrade Randall offers feels like a sort of upward mobility even if it is still putting on the outfits another man gives to her, and within a more narrow range. It's a tendency to define herself by what she has and allowing herself to be trapped by what feels like her own initiative.

Amanda Fuller is excellent at bringing this out - as much as she gets to spend much of the movie being a chameleon, adjusting her performance just a bit for the persona that April is taking on - subtle at first, larger later - she never loses track of who the character is underneath (it takes just the smallest missing of the mark for a character built around taste and expertise to come across as a snob rather than an enthusiast, which never happens here), and always hits the notes which highlight her troubles with self-image and compulsion. The character is fairly volatile from the start, but not initially enough to become off-putting, and there's an impressive desperation as she finds herself in well over her head. Fuller is good enough to overshadow the supporting characters who will have a big effect on her actions, although not by too much.

That's a good group as well, especially the men in April's life. Neither of the two main ones is a particular prize, though Devin Bonnée inhabits a small part that could be insufferable (the homeless guy who is probably the most level-headed person in the movie) nicely. There's a genuine-seeming dishevelment to Ethan Embry's Eric; a sense that he feels he's not quite getting his due but not really ambitious enough to go after more. He's inconsequential from the outside but has just enough to him to matter to himself and April. Eric Balfour's Randall isn't inconsequential in that way; he oozes the sort of oily self-confidence that lets his weird pick-up lines to April kind of work, ingratiating even while making it obvious he's sort of a sleaze. He makes for a fun, hissable character, with just bad enough to be no good but just charismatic enough to be useful.

There's not necessarily a whole lot of plot to the film, especially in terms of what involves April directly - her friend Theresa (Jemma Evans) has a lousy boyfriend of her own, Eric's eye may be wandering as he plans to expand his business, Randall is obviously involved in some sort of crime and may be grooming April for something - so he does a bit of the thing where he doesn't tell the story in strictly chronological order, letting the occasional jumps keep the viewer's mind a bit more active. It's not entirely a storytelling trick - it reinforces that April hasn't really put Eric behind her while she's with Randall, as well as giving the audience a bit of a feel for the delirium that addiction can bring, splintering the everyday. Rumley and his crew make decent use of the Austin setting, too, plugging into the trendy vibe without either completely buying in or dismissing it as juvenile, making its home in ungentrified spots but not having Randall seem out of place there.

Rumley's script does get a little too cute at times as it moves toward the end, not just when it reveals that certain incongruous scenes throughout the movie have been part of a metaphor that maybe doesn't necessarily serve our understanding of April as well as it could, but also as April has to deal with the more monstrous activities of Randall coming to light. It's not that the film shouldn't go big with this material, but they don't seem to fit quite as well as, say, the similar ending of Most Beautiful Island. He's pushing to something good but with a few bumps getting there.

It's worth checking out, though, an intriguing tale of the addictions and compulsions that we inflict upon ourselves.

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originally posted: 11/14/17 13:28:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Simon Rumley

Written by
  Simon Rumley

  Amanda Fuller
  Ethan Embry
  Eric Balfour
  Alex Essoe

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