Movie Review - She Sings to the Stars (Portland Film Festival)

There are quite a few pop culture references made here. The first of which is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Yes, this movie opens with a man seeing a UFO. As the movie goes along, I'm surprised an obvious reference isn't made to The X-Files. The look of this movie is very much similar to that series, post Season 5 where the southwestern part of the United States could actually be utilized, and a real desert landscape could be captured. A lot of films set in New Mexico will achieve a similar look and feel. The X-Files though did have an episode in the second season titled, "Anasazi," which incorporated a story-line about the Navajo and Pueblo people. The opening scene of this film, written and directed by Jennifer Corcoran, is that of a Pueblo-like woman alone, sitting in a wooden chair in a desert-like field and staring up at the stars.

Fannie Loretto stars as Mabel, an elderly woman living in a small house, a stone shack really, in the middle of a rocky, barren flatland. She does have her loyal pet dog and a patch of farmland where she grows corn or other garden vegetables. However, it's said that the water table has been ruined due to a local coal company. Any water has to be shipped to her from miles away. Meantime, her corn and garden are dying, drying up. She's calm and easygoing. She's quiet at first, but when she does speak, the impression is conveyed that she's lived quite an interesting life and brings with her a wealth of experiences to weather anything. She also brings faith and a strong spirituality that's deeply-rooted.

Larry Cedar also stars as Lyle, a white, middle-aged magician who is a bit washed-up or looks as about as dried-up as Mabel's corn. He's desperate for gigs and money that he'll play at rinky-dink malls in Santa Fe, all while wishing he were headlining in Las Vegas. He's down on his luck. Yet, he wears the traditional black-suit with a red bow-tie and top hat from which he pulls his pet rabbit. He seems like he's a classically-trained showman who cracks jokes and is personable. However, to him magic is just tricks. He doesn't believe in the true magic of what could be faith or even UFOs.

Jesus Mayorga as 'Third'
Jesus Mayorga co-stars as Romero Martinez III or just "Third." He's a half-Mexican, gas station attendant. He never identifies as Mexican. He simply says he's American. He's had some issues in the past regarding the law and alcohol, but he loves to dance, even if it's by himself and at night. He aspires to be a dancer, hoping he'll be able to save up enough cash to head to Los Angeles.

Through a series of circumstances, Lyle and Third find themselves trapped at Mabel's house. The two men start at odds with each other. Both also start somewhat skeptical of Mabel's faith and her spiritual beliefs like Dana Scully from The X-Files. There isn't one who's naturally inclined to believe her like Fox Mulder, also from The X-Files. Neither Lyle or Third are FBI agents investigating a crime, such as a murder, but like Mulder and Scully, they encounter danger, the mysterious, the mystical and possibly the sci-fi before their attitudes change and come around to Mabel's way of thinking.

The second, or one of the other early references, is to The Twilight Zone, and for the longest time, Corcoran's film feels like it could have been ripped from the mind of Rod Serling. Lyle feels like a typical, Serling protagonist, a man well-suited for the late 50's and early 60's time-period, trying to reconcile the physical from the metaphysical through circumstance or interpersonal interaction. Third is a version of that or not that far from it.

Corcoran's script along the way subtly delivers issues plaguing the Native American and Mexican community whether it's poverty, assimilation, injustice, encroachment, unhealthy eating, etc., without being didactic or heavy-handed. This movie can also feel like spending the day with one's own grandmother being cared for and educated by her. Loretto is a warm and eventually comforting presence. She can be stern but never really has to be. Without even being touched, she's like a warm hug.

It may be a reach but there are slight, queer themes that one could pull from this. Both men express having women in their lives, but both also express disinterest in those women, mainly to pursue careers in the arts. Third asks Lyle about his wife, and he acts as if she doesn't exist because he's more intrigued by the man beside him. Lyle asks Third about some dolls he was going to sell, but Third says he's keeping them in an affirmative that he's not denying a part of himself anymore. At one point when one assumes the two might separate, there's an acknowledgment of their couple-hood moving forward.

Corcoran might simply intend a platonic relationship, or slight bromance as a future prognostication. Yet, assigning a queer label to them might also not be that far fetched. It was nice either way to immerse oneself in this world and with these people. Corcoran has crafted a nice slice of life here.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.

Playing at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For a preview of more films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
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