Runs Fri., Dec. 5–Thurs., Dec. 11 at Grand Illusion. Not rated. 86 minutes.
It doesn’t really matter if you remember Brandy Burre from The Wire or not; nor is it worth looking up her scant credits on IMDb. This recursive documentary about her increasingly discontented life as a mother and housewife in the Hudson River Valley, meanwhile trying to resume her old trade, provides a definitive role. Director Robert Greene previously followed North Carolina semi-pro wrestlers and Alabama teens (in Fake It So Real and Kati With an I, respectively, both seen here in 2012). Those young subjects were relatively unsophisticated and unformed, learning how to present themselves to the world.
Burre, vaguely in her 30s, is an entirely different sort of heroine. She’s Greene’s neighbor in the resurgent commuter suburb of Beacon, New York; and she agreed—surely with some sort of publicity agenda in mind—to let him trail her through what proves an eventful period in her life. Scripted, it could be melodrama. Sensationalized, it could be one of those Real Housewives TV shows. (Then there’s Lisa Kudrow’s considerably more self-lacerating The Comeback on HBO.) Yet Greene cooly withholds judgment on Burre, quite aware she could be playing him. That’s her job, after all, as stated in the title.
With two small children and a mostly silent boyfriend, Tim, who runs hipster restaurants, Burre now faces a familiar female dilemma. She’s got the house and family (if not the marriage); Tim seems like a decent, dependable breadwinner; yet her youthful identity is being smothered by domestic life. The next two decades are set for her in sleepy, snowy Beacon—unless she can somehow revive her career. With Tim and the kids away for the holidays, she says, “I forgot what it’s like to be free of responsibilities.” She slips down to New York for well-lubricated reunions with old theater pals, talks to an agent, and starts a makeover for new headshots and auditions. Soon she’s calling the Beacon household “playing the roles . . . playing house,” like it’s her next gig after The Wire.
Putting on makeup with practiced self-regard in the mirror, performing a confident cabaret set onstage, crying on cue for Greene’s lens, Burre remains unknowable—to Greene, to us, and to the increasingly baffled, stoic Tim. She’s no tragic figure like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, yet her declarations to the camera often feel cribbed from the canon. Meanwhile Greene keeps feeding her more rope, even encouraging her to perform some melodramatic vignettes: artifice punctuating what increasingly seems artificial. You could call Burre extremely selfish or extremely skilled, yet it’s impossible to dismiss her complaints. Actress raises but refuses to answer some unsettling questions. How strong is your marriage? And: How well do you know your spouse?