By Tom Coulter
There is a moment in Actress when Brandy Burre, the film’s subject, is sitting alone in a playroom, her back against a wall littered with board games and action figures. Brandy looks around her and says softly, “I moved to Beacon, I’m not acting, so this is my creative outlet.” She pauses as though seeking an affirmation from the toys surrounding her, and her voice gains a hint of certainty as she announces again, “I moved to Beacon, I’m not acting, so this is my creative outlet”.
This brief scene captures the difficulty of Brandy’s reality. After finding success acting on-stage along with a role in The Wire, which many people (myself included) consider to be the best TV show of all-time, Brandy had kids and decided to move her family to the cozy confines of Beacon, New York. She and her partner Tim live in an old, well-furnished home, and their children are Brandy’s sole focus. Actress captures the volatile period of Brandy’s life in which she attempts to escape the trap of domesticity and rediscover herself as an actor.
The film, which is directed, shot, and edited by Mizzou’s very own Robert Greene, simply observes Brandy a majority of the time. We follow her through her daily routine of cleaning up every sort of mess made by her young children, and it is clear that she isn’t where she thought she would be in life. The scenes where Brandy talks face-to-face with the camera are rare and well dispersed through the film, but they are always effective and illuminating. In one interview, she shows an array of emotions: laughing at herself for forgetting her daughter’s birthday, lamenting her inability to escape the ever-present responsibility of parenting, and admitting that she has been trying to separate from her partner for weeks.
But while Brandy is able to decide what she does and doesn’t say when speaking directly to the camera, there are moments of raw emotion that Greene is able to capture organically. Later that day after jokingly admitting that she forgot her daughter’s birthday, the camera observes her as she watches a video of her daughter blowing out the candles on her cake. As the video ends, Brandy buries her face in her hands, wondering where the time has gone.
Greene does a good job of respecting his audience by leaving things for us to figure out. Upon her trip to New York City to visit old friends, we see Brandy kissing a man, but the lighting never makes things too obvious, instead leaving us to guess about her extramarital adventures.
The film is able to intertwine the gradual resentment that builds up in a relationship with the difficulty of balancing family and career goals. Constant wintery shots of small-town New England give the perfect atmosphere for Brandy’s hardening worldview, and Greene succeeds in evoking emotion from his audience through them.
Brandy puts on different faces in every scene, from nurturing mother to discontent girlfriend to energetic party host. Ironically enough, we never actually see Brandy up on stage and are instead left painting our own view of her acting talents from what she does everyday. As Brandy says, “Actors need to be a bit crazy”. Through Actress, Greene affirms that we all must be.