Fashionista (Fantasia 2017)
Written and directed by Simon Rumley
Screened at Fantasia 2017
Simon Rumley’s dark exploration of destructive relationships, Fashionista, is not for everyone. In fact, it may not be for me either… at least not anymore. It’s a film that needs to be seen at a certain time in your life, when you’re old enough to find a path but still young enough to not be afraid to see it fade away.
Much like the city of Austin where Fashionista is set, the characters are in transition whether they’re aware of it or not. Obsession leads to fetish, and stability gives way to controlled chaos.
The best thing Fashionista has going for it is how sexy it is. Amanda Fuller, reuniting with Rumley after her breakout in Red, White & Blue, is powerful and delicate as April. She runs a vintage clothing store with her husband, played by the consistently surprising Ethan Embry, whose threatening masculinity is front and center here. April has an unhealthy connection to and obsession with the clothes in her store. Her fetish is tied to her state of mind, and it’s depicted in awkward scenes of her sniffing garments and sighing to herself. This should be provocative but comes off as a little pretentious.
It’s not until April makes a discovery about her seemingly idyllic bohemian life that she begins to transform and become more interesting as a character. It’s a bold, fierce performance that always manages to keep April’s vulnerability lurking just under the surface.
The more compelling relationship between Fuller and Embry eventually gives way to a more psychosexual journey for April into the underground desires of high society. The dramatics of early scenes are shot from far away, with the camera being more of a voyeur. However, later in the film the close-ups increase; and we go from onlooker to participant. Eric Balfour sweeps in as a seductive rich sadist who is also obsessed with women’s clothing, offering a complete opposite to Embry’s laid back cowboy. Looking at the major differences between these two characters, Fashionista is divided up into two, non-cohesive parts. If this were a song, the first half feels like the acoustic version with the second half more like the radio club mix.
Comparisons to Nicolas Roeg don’t really fit, although Rumley is certainly inspired and influenced by his work. Roeg’s films crash and dovetail back into themselves, but there usually seems to be a grand design in mind. Fashionista is trippy in parts (especially during reality-bending hallucinatory dreams that terrorize April), but it’s fairly linear and doesn’t have real structure.
It’s all a bit disjointed, but because of Fuller’s take on April, there’s an emotional throughline that keeps you connected to her mini-adventure from the mundane to the explicit to the horrific. There is a lot of positivity surrounding Fashionista, and it has definitely enjoyed a great festival run. But for me personally, this felt like an artist trying to make a statement instead of really making a distinctive and thought-provoking film. It’s an impression, not an original.
I have a feeling Rumley’s next film will really stick the landing, but in the meantime Fashionista is worth experiencing, if only to see if you come away with something more than I did.