Fancy Dance | Review by: Benjamin Garrett

 Fancy Dance treads familiar waters in its narrative structure, but is elevated through its authentic portrait of reservation life, and urgent themes surrounding the marginalization of Native peoples. Despite some distracting storytelling flaws, this narrative feature debut from Erica Tremblay is every bit as timely as it ought to be. 

The film follows Jax (Lily Gladstone) - a member of the Seneca People, who’s caring for her 13 year old niece Roki (Isabel DeRoy Olsen) in the wake of her sister’s disappearance. This is part coming-of-age story, part mystery and part road movie. It bounces between exploring Jax and Roki’s bond, the missing person’s investigation (or lack thereof) and Roki wanting to embrace her Seneca heritage. 

Being helmed by a Native American filmmaker, everything about these characters’ experiences and reservation life feels genuine. Not once did I feel like elements were being exaggerated for dramatic effect or glamorized in a way that shied away from some harsh truths. The problems lie more with the way this story is told than the story itself. There is a lot (and I really do mean a lot) of expositional dialogue, which is so unnatural at times it becomes a distraction. There are a handful of really beautiful moments when the film decides to show, rather than tell, but so much of the plot progresses through clunky exposition. 

Lily Gladstone broke onto the scene last year with a powerful performance, and demonstrates her staying power here. Jax carries her burdens and displays a weariness that Gladstone portrays expertly. The real big surprise is Isabel DeRoy Olsen, beautifully capturing Roki’s struggle to preserve important traditions while adapting to a newfound life outside of the reservation.  These two actresses work wonderfully together, giving nuanced performances that balance with each other quite well.

Fancy Dance uses dialogue a little too often in place of organic storytelling, but remains an affecting drama with timely themes and strong performances. The mistreatment and marginalization of Native peoples is something we should all be aware of, which is why films like this - however flawed they may be - are important. 

Fancy Dance is available on Apple TV+ June 28.


Review by: Benjamin Garrett

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