Review by Alan French
Finding our place in our communities can be difficult. However, finding out how we fit within a family unit can be far more emotionally taxing. For the characters in This Place, the debut feature from V.T. Nayani, the idea of belonging in a specific place remains in flux. Both of the women at the center of the story find themselves torn between forging their own future and respecting the legacies of their family.
Kawenniióhstha (Devery Jacobs) begins her college career far from home. After being raised in a Mohawk community, she wants to meet the Iranian father she has never known. As she attends school and gains confidence as a writer, she meets Malai (Priya Guns), the daughter of a Tamil immigrant. As Malai’s attempts to reconnect with her ailing father, she faces considerable pressure from her professors and brother about her future academic career. As Kawenniióhstha and Malai grow closer, they reckon with the shadow of their family legacies.
Jacobs and Guns’s performances each provide the actresses with material that showcases more subtle performances. While emotion courses through the dialogue, the restraint shown by different characters speaks to a more authentic experience. This also makes the moments where a character displays vulnerability even more impactful.
As their relationship evolves, Nayani evokes dream-like qualities in the visuals and the musical score. The use of blues, reds, and purples helps set an otherworldly feeling as the women begin to fall for each other. The use of bisexual lighting might have been a little on the nose, yet This Place grips the audience during these sequences. With a gorgeous score accompanying the visuals, there seemed to be undeniable homages to Barry Jenkins.
At times, the film suffers from an uneven screenplay. There are sequences that feel extremely overwritten, specifically exposition dumps by Kawenniióhstha and Malai. Meanwhile, their parents feel like cardboard cutouts, simply there to get in the way of their journey. On one hand, this seems intentional. The women do not know much about their parents' struggles, and as a result, we are left in the dark as well. This approach undermines the first sequences of the movie, where we observe the unique anxieties and justified paranoia of the immigrant experience. We later see these anxieties echoed across generations, but by limiting our time with the parents of each woman, we are left with a void of information.
Nayani establishes herself as director to watch with This Place’s essential themes. One of the most diverse features of the year, both in terms of perspective and on-screen talent, This Place forces the audience to question their own experience growing up. However, the small screenplay issues pile up, hurting the film over its runtime. With an essential story, the film sneaks up on you as an emotional and rewarding experience.
This Place screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.