Acting is a tough gig. You go up for auditions trying to score a part, and you fail left and right. Even when you find success, you can feel locked into a certain role because that’s what people expect of you. In A Woman, a Part, writer-director Elisabeth Subrin’s feature debut, we get the tale of an actress stuck in a rut who goes back to her New York digs for some rest and relaxation. What she discovers is not at all what she expected.
Anna’s (Maggie Siff) acting career satisfies her on a financial level but not a mental one. She’s a successful regular on a TV show in Los Angeles, but her dialogue gets more and more banal with each episode. Her anxiety and drug use are getting worse. After Anna walks off set, her agent Leslie (Khandi Alexander) buys her some time by getting her a week off work. “Take a vacation, a real vacation,” she begs. Anna flies back to New York City, where she had her start as a struggling theater actress, and drops back into the lives of her acting buddies. Kate (Cara Seymour) no longer acts, and now teaches yoga classes. Isaac (John Ortiz) is married with a toddler, but he’s a failed playwright. A Woman, a Part is all about if Anna can get her shit together or not. The stakes aren’t high, but they’re personal.
Elisabeth Subrin shoots the flick in a workmanlike style. Aside from some surreal, choppy editing in the dopey opening credits sequence, A Woman, a Part has flat compositions with a color scheme that comes off as desaturated. It works well enough for its sometimes raw story, but this is a movie that lives or dies on the strength of its writing. Many scenes come straight out of the playbook of Indie Film 101 with characters singing karaoke out of tune at a bar, long takes of characters staring into a vacant corner of their apartment, and tearful confessions in hallways. It’s only towards the end when the movie picks up. Characters reveal motivations as the plot delivers a few twists that could have been used earlier in the flick. It ends just as you start to like it a little.
Maggie Siff (Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy) delivers a flat performance as Anna. Then again, her character is zoned out on cocaine and off her Wellbutrin for much of the movie, so maybe it’s a choice? One of the few reasons to see this movie is for Cara Seymour’s (American Psycho, Dancer in the Dark) take on Kate. Full of an uneasy mix of love and resentment, Kate has more meat on her bones than any other character in the script. Cara gives a subtle performance, letting her subtle emotions eke out at a perfect pace over the length of the motion picture. John Ortiz (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Steve Jobs) is just OK as the sniveling writer Isaac. His character is desperate and his performance hits those notes by fumbling around on the keys.
As far as directorial debuts go, A Woman, a Part is middling. We’ve all seen this story about an actress’ life on the skids before. I’m sure Subrin has a great film in her; she’s just not there yet. Watch it for Cara Seymour’s riveting performance, if nothing else.