Michelle’s Pfeiffer’s return to screen, Where Is Kyra?, feels like an overcast day during which the sun never makes it out. But somehow the actress still manages to shine — even as the movie chronicles her character’s bleak demise.
We’re introduced to Pfeiffer’s Kyra helping her sick mother, Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), bathe in their shared apartment. It’s clear the two are close, as daughter affectionately and unflinchingly helps mother in her daily needs, but it’s also apparent Kyra has little else to fill her time. She’s struggled to find work since her divorce and return home to New York. Sharing her mother’s disability checks, the situation could be graver for Kyra. Then, Ruth dies.
But due to a social security number mixup, the death isn’t immediately registered, and soon Kyra realizes she can get away with continuing to cash her mom’s benefit checks. How? Kyra is unnoticeable. No one takes more than a minute to look at her — as striking a beauty as Pfeiffer is, even with a bare face and wearing a worn, mustard-colored raincoat — as she trudges from crappy dinner to dingy office in hopes of securing some work, any work, and even dresses up as her mother for bank visits to fraudulently cash the checks.
The only person whose attention she does catch is the equally down-on-his-luck Doug (Keifer Sutherland), and the two begin a romance without any of the fanfare or excitement of a new relationship. It seems to be an attraction born out of desperation to feel something more than anything else.
And so we settle into the dreary pattern of Kyra’s destitute life, as she’s overwhelmed by financial woe and overlooked by society. Where Is Kyra? certainly isn’t an easy watch; it’s a moody movie that’s mostly a character study and definitely not for the action-hearted.
Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George and Restless City) keeps the dialogue sparse throughout the film so that the unfilled silences, coupled with dimly lit shots and the use of long camera angles that often partially cut out or obscure Kyra in the frame, add to the overall grim motif. This feeling of unrelenting despair can become a tad tedious.
In the final third of the movie, suspense and urgency do build more quickly — heightened exponentially by a jarring, alarmingly screechy score that is more noise than music — as Kyra’s ruse gradually comes closer to being uncovered. At every beat, Pfeiffer poignantly conveys Kyra’s misery, from the quieter hopeless moments to the more frantically despondent. And the actress’ finesse makes it worth the watch.
The elusive Kyra may not be discovered by the end of this movie, but Pfeiffer’s presence on screen is found, felt, and not forgotten.