Writer and director Julia Kots’ feature debut tackles tricky emotional material
Writer-director Julia Kots’ Inez & Doug & Kira is a prickly drama about suicide that provokes and frustrates in equal measure. It centers on the death of Inez, and tracks the ripples that engulf those closest to Inez. Namely, her twin sister Kira and Kira’s fiancee Doug. All three of their lives are inextricably connected in a way that reveals one of the frankest truths about suicide: it’s a singular act without a singular cause. There’s that old cliche about suicide being a permanent solution to a temporary problem, which is repeated by a character in the film. That’s a lie. Something may have finally pushed someone to a point of no return, but there is a long, winding road that leads a person to that point. In the wake of Inez’s death, Doug and Kira try to figure out what made Inez end her life, like they couldn’t see the whole puzzle without that final piece. That would be convenient for them, it would offer some kind of closure. Oh, Inez was a drug addict and alcoholic whose demons got the best of her. Or, maybe, it was her frustrations with her career that did it. Or, possibly, her unfulfilled desire to have a family. Inez & Doug & Kira is at its best when it sits in the messiness of life and death.
Anchored by strong performances by Michael Chernus and Tawny Cypress as Doug and Inez, the film is successful most often when we’re watching characters exist in the moment. I’m thinking of a scene, post-mortem, where Doug has a tense interaction with Inez’s neighbors. Nothing major happens, plot-wise, in the scene, but Chernus gets to run through a gauntlet of emotions in the space of a few moments. It’s not played as a big emotional moment, but to see the series of realizations happening for the character has a subtle power. The script gives most of these moments to Doug and most of the heavier dramatic bits to Inez. With a less capable performer than Cypress, most of Inez’s story would play as the bad kind of melodrama. The flashback structure means that we only see her in bigger emotional moments. Cypress injects enough humanity into the character to prevent Inez from feeling like a caricature.
My biggest issue is that the script kind of marginalizes Inez to a degree. Everything we learn about Inez is filtered through someone else’s perspective, usually Doug’s. It almost feels like one final indignity to the character to have her story and, by extension, her life subsumed into Doug and Kira’s story. Kira is her twin sister, the one who succeeded at life whereas Inez came up short in comparison. Doug is an alcoholic who met Inez at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Their relationship never quite took the romantic turn Doug wanted, and eventually he ended up with Kira. The relationship between Kira and Inez doesn’t get the depth that Doug and Inez get, and it feels like the story could’ve used either more or less of Kira. Talia Thiesfield does what she can with the role, but it feels underwritten. The character is around enough to make you wish she had more to do, but she’s also not around enough to make a significant impact.
Inez & Doug & Kira has enough going on to make it worth the VOD rental, but it also feels like it’s not quite the best version of itself. It’s at its best when it allows itself to be emotionally messy. The mystery element of Inez’s death gives the film a more traditional hook, like everything will make sense once all the cards are on the table. But that doesn’t quite ring true to reality. Life and death can never be neatly squared, not truly. There’s too much to question, second-guess, and consider. For whatever qualms I have with Inez & Doug & Kira, it opens itself up to questioning, second-guessing, and rumination. To linger in someone’s mind means it did something right.
Inez & Doug & Kira hit VOD (for rental or purchase) 9/29 from 1091 Pictures.