Review by Tatiana Miranda
While Natalia Dyer is most well-known for her role in Stranger Things, she's been a lead in indie films such as Yes, God, Yes and I Believe in Unicorns. Now, she leads the queer coming-of-age film Chestnut. The film derives its name from the historic street in Philadelphia, where the movie takes place and was shot. The premise centers around Dyer's character, Annie James, who is a recent college graduate with plans to move to LA at the end of the summer. Then, while at a bar, one night she crosses paths with friends Tyler and Danny and finds herself reluctant to leave.
Alongside Dyer, Danny Ramirez (On My Block and Top Gun: Maverick) and Rachel Keller (Legion and The Society) portray the alluring Danny and Tyler, respectively. With a cast of established and talented actors, it's surprising how disappointing their performances are in Chestnut. In an attempt to be understated and contemplative, the film comes across as dull and uninspired. For a movie that feels very personal to the director, Jac Cron — as she also attended college in Philadelphia — there isn't a lot of personality in the film.
As a movie that attempts to tackle the complexities of bisexuality, it doesn't have a super nuanced take. Chestnut is most comparable to Princess Cyd, a film about a girl who falls for people of the same and opposite sex over the course of a summer. While Princess Cyd centers more on the realization of being bisexual, the protagonist of Chestnut has already established her queer identity by the beginning of the film. This does feel refreshing in a sea of LGBTQ+ films that tend to focus on the coming out portion of being queer. Still, the queer aspects of the movie get lost in the underdeveloped portions of the story, including Annie's relationships with Danny and Tyler.
It's clear what the movie attempted to focus on, such as Annie's conflicting feelings toward Danny and Tyler, and her jealousy of both, along with her introverted nature and hesitance to relocate to a new city. Yet, it feels like Chestnut is telling us these things are important to the story, rather than properly developing these topics and letting them evolve as the film goes on. Instead, the movie is about an hour and a half of jealousy, longing looks across bars, and Annie's discussions with a friend about her relationship with Tyler and Danny.
Overall, Chestnut has potential, with the stellar cast and interesting conflicts of allowing yourself to fall for someone (or some people) even if it's temporary, but it falls short in giving these conflicts a unique voice.
Chestnut screened at the 2023 edition of NewFest, which runs October 12-24.