Simon Rumley is a filmmaker not known for pulling punches. From his work like Red, White and Blue to his segment in The ABC’s of Death (which is probably the most upsetting segment of the bunch), he challenges audiences and pushes the boundaries. His newest effort, Fashionista, is no different. It’s a story of obsession and identity and the effects of both on someone both mentally and physically. Like his work that has come before, it’s a challenging film, one that will no doubt divide audiences. It is also one of his most accomplished films that seamlessly blends location and character into the dark churn of infatuation and the idea of ones self.
The film follows April (Amanda Fuller returning to work with the director again) and her husband Eric (Ethan Embry) as they run their Austin Texas vintage clothing store. Everything seems to be picture perfect for the hip pair of entrepreneurs until April suspects Eric of cheating on her. As their relationship spirals out of control, she meets a patient wolf type in Randall (Eric Balfour) who enchants April but quickly ensnares her in his own web of shadowy misdeeds. To say much more about the plot of the film, however, would be doing a great disservice to the audience. The film uses a fractured timeline, jumping between different points of view and times, that can feel jarring up to the final moments of the film. It’s in these moments that everything becomes jaw dropping and bring all of the timeline together in a completely unexpected way.
The standout of the film are the performances. Amanda Fuller, who shined in Red, White and Blue as well as the incredible Starry Eyes is absolutely breathtaking here. She weaves through the complexity of the plot and the emotional landscape it creates with ease. Everything about her and her relationship with Embry feels real and lived in.They both fit the hip Austin mold and it doesn’t take much to think you would actually see these two behind the counter of any chic boutique. They behave and react to the challenges they find themselves in like real people and this helps us really root for them, through all their faults, when the going really gets tough (and believe me, it absolutely does). Austin itself is more than just a location in the film. It becomes a character as Rumley uses each location not just as a backdrop, but as a living breathing asset that interacts with his characters. It’s one of those films that tells you where it’s set and by the end you realize it couldn’t have taken place anywhere else.
The muted, lo-fi aesthetic that Rumley has used in the past returns here. It’s not frills cinematography with a lot of handheld work and simple shooting that puts the emphasis on the story and characters rather than being too concerned with looking cool. it’s in this that Rumley shows what kind of filmmaker he is. He is concerned with what’s important, the nitty gritty of making a good film. It’s this no frills approach that also makes the film so affecting in the end. Whereas some films and filmmakers would use clever shots or angles to soften the uncomfortable parts, Rumley makes you face them head on. It’s unvarnished and raw and works marvelously.
I really adored almost everything about this film but it’s sure to split audiences. It’s challenging but engaging. Accessible but divisive. The eventual payoff makes you work for it and when it happened, I was on my feet and pacing around the room. it’s that good. I am a week or so away from having seen the film and I have thought about it every single day since. Fashionista gets inside your head and doesn’t let go with beautifully realized characters, stark cinematography and a haunting story that will keep you thinking long after the final credits roll.
review by Mike D.