For Your Consideration: Two Cents Tries to Catch Up with FAST COLOR

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

We are over-saturated with superhero stories these days, but even in the crowded market place, there’s nothing quite like Julia Hart’s Fast Color.

A former high school teacher, Hart gave up that job to pursue screenwriting, going on to pen recent films like The Keeping Room. Working with her husband, the writer/producer Jordan Horowitz (who produced La La Land), Hart made the leap to directing with Miss Stevens in 2016.

Nothing in either talented spouse’s filmography would suggest their interest and skill in a sci-fi/superhero adventure, but Fast Color came out of nowhere last year with one of the freshest recent takes on super-beings and their amazing powers.

Set in a near future where everlasting drought has dried up not only the land but also the hope and spirit of the populace, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is on the run from both shadowy government forces and her own nature. When Ruth experiences a seizure, the ground seizes with her, and it’s clear that the toll of this power is starting to wear her down.

With no place left to go, Ruth returns to her childhood home to face her mother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), and daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Both the older and younger woman are possessed of extraordinary powers as well, and as the three generations come together it becomes clear that the only way to heal the ruined world is to heal one another.

Fast Color did not get much theatrical play, but it immediately became an instant favorite for some viewers due to its eccentric nature, its intimate scope compared to the blockbuster smash-fests of other superhero stories, and for the primacy it places on powerful black woman, a field in which the mainstream comic book films are still woefully lagging.

Fast Color is currently being developed into a TV series for Amazon Prime through Viola Davis’ production company, with Hart and Horowitz continuing to guide the story along.

Next Week’s Pick

I Lost My Body is the age-old, well-worn story of loneliness in the big city, of the awkward stages of young romance, and of a severed hand battling its way through the horrors of underground urban life to rejoin its body.

The bizarre, entirely metaphoric animated opus was a surprise nominee for Best Animated Feature (along with another Netflix original, the surprisingly wonderful Klaus).

I Lost My Body is available to stream on Netflix Instant.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Austin Wilden:

I feel like, no matter what I say about how strongly Julia Hart’s Fast Color made me feel, I still haven’t seen the full picture of this wonderful multi-generational science fiction tale that uses the concept of superpowers similarly to how Arrival used the concept of first contact with aliens.

The sheer power in some of the imagery speaks for itself, like Bo resolving the standoff with the authorities at the end nonviolently by dissolving their guns with her abilities. However, other times I almost felt like I was in the same position as Ruth was for most of the runtime, unable to see the colors that give the magic at play its real beauty. Which is to say the moment that got to me most was when Ruth discovers her true power and sees the colors for the first time. That rapturous joy, played perfectly by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, of fully connecting not only to her powers but to what her daughter means to her put such a smile on my face that was only. Topped by the ending, when Ruth reads the last message from her mother. (@WC_Wit)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

In a year where the highly anticipated Dark Phoenix film was released and proven to be thoroughly mediocre, we were actually treated to two fantastic films about characters with narratives that would fit exquisitely into the X-Universe. One of these is Freaks, starring Emile Hirsch, which is already described by many as 2019’s best X-Men film – despite having zero association with the Fox franchise or Marvel comic. The other is today’s Two Cents selection, Fast Color.

The reason these films strike me as fantastic fits in the X-Men landscape is a central idea that drives both films: people are scared of what is different. While Freaks displays a manic xenophobia that manifests in righteous paranoia, Fast Color feels move nuanced and contemplative in its approach. With the government chasing our protagonist Ruth as is she were ET, there’s still a paranoia and a sense of danger throughout, but it’s less manic than it is a background looming force.

Tons of heart and a compelling story of life, love, and escape – Fast Color is one of the best movies I’ve seen in some time. It has appeal for genre fans and those who beer towards more mainstream drama alike.

And, anyone who puts Billie Holiday and X-ray Spex side by side as the best music of all time is okay in my book. (@thepaintedman)

elizabeth stoddard:

The worldbuilding is strong from the start, quickly establishing the action in an America suffering a multi-year drought. Fast Color’s setting is effective enough to make the viewer thirsty. Hart creates a tense environment — and the family’s calm haven in the midst of it — in a script infused with subtle moments of deep emotion. A synth-filled score by Rob Simonsen and the cinematography from Michael Fimognari emphasize the momentousness of Ruth’s self-discovery.

There is a certain beauty to casting women of color in these roles, adding further significance to the original concept of women with unexplainable powers being under attack. A scene where Bo faces down a threatening group of white men is even more gripping given the power dynamics on view. Mbatha-Raw, Toussaint, and even young Sidney are magical in Fast Color, a stunning and wondrous work that will undoubtedly be one of the best films I see this year.

Editor’s Note: Read the rest of Elizabeth’s thoughts in her full review. (elizabeth stoddard)

Brendan Foley:

I second everyone’s enthusiasm for this movie, as the material with Mbatha-Raw and her mother and daughter is some of the most exciting work in a genre film in recent years. While Hart takes a deliberately-paced approach to a fairly small, tight story, the inter-character dynamics and tensions are powerful enough to always remain interesting. And the way that Hart uses the magical abilities of the family to underline and illustrate the emotional problems between one another is classic Twilight Zone stuff, very ably played.

My only real problem with Fast Color comes any time it cuts away from the farmhouse to deal with the other subplots. David Strathairn is so compelling a screen presence that he makes his somewhat flat manhunt story at least somewhat engaging, but the stuff involving the government agents stalking Ruth and her family is the most boring, obvious storyline Hart could have come up with and it reeks of filler.

My dislike of that material aside, Fast Color is still a terrific original superhero story, and I’m very excited for the Amazon show to return us to this world and see whatever other wonders Hart has in store. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

I enjoy science fiction tales of all stripes, but there’s something to be said for grounded futuristic stories which take place in slightly removed version of our real world.

Fast Color’s thoroughly engrossing and moving tale of a woman on the run, unable to control her telekinetic (and seismic) episodes and chased by mysterious agents, is a bit similar to the experience of many of the X-Men — but this isn’t a world of superhero teams or fancy schools for gifted youngsters. Instead it’s dealt with as a family, as three generations of women, each possessing these extraordinary gifts, try to work together to understand the extent and nature of their powers, and more importantly how to control them.

Thematically, this one’s right in line with the thematically and stylistically similar Midnight Special, which found a place in the hearts of so many film lovers — I consider Fast Color to be its equal, and would encourage fans of either film to experience the other. (@VforVashaw)

Further reading:

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