Queen of Earth

Queen of Earth

My single favorite acting moment of a film from 2014 was from Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip. When Jason Schwartzman's titular Philip is finally cut off by his girlfriend Ashley, played by Elizabeth Moss, he leaves their apartment in the same manner he leaves many of the film's scenes, in a cloud of silent rage. After he leaves, Perry holds the camera in a close-up on Moss' face, and in the space of about thirty seconds, she moves through a reaction in which fear, regret, anger, and relief are visible.

For Elizabeth Moss, Queen of Earth takes those thirty seconds and stretches them out over ninety minutes, with Perry asking her to hit nearly every note on the emotional spectrum and Moss proving herself more than up to the challenge. Though the film's other elements are very strong, there's no denying that Moss is to Queen of Earth what Daniel Day-Lewis was to There Will Be Blood; an actor charged with balancing a meticulously-constructed movie but whose constructions could easily mean next to nothing without their skills guiding the way. It's interesting to note that Perry actually filmed Queen of Earth before shooting Listen Up Philip, returning to post-production to release it after Philip, since this release pattern seems to alter the arc viewers will place on not only Moss' performances in each and skill as an actor, but in Perry's interests as a filmmaker.

Every Alex Ross Perry movie seems to be received with comparisons to other works (I admittedly do this myself, as you see), and ultimately, I viewQueen of Earth as Perry's answer to Robert Altman's 3 Women. Though not as fully in control of his world, Perry's interest doesn't lie in "satisfying" the audience or offering easy answers to his characters' psychologies (this comparison was one I thought about watching the movie, one that crystalizes why I never had the problem many seem to have connecting to the characters).

Though I highly praise Moss here, that's not to say the film's other elements are lacking. Katherine Waterston holds her own against Moss, often equalling her in their scenes together, their seemingly brittle and prickly friendship only briefly presenting itself as anything healthy and supporting. Waterston is basically asked to act out what might be a broken mind's perception of a friend, and she does so exceptionally. Ditto Patrick Fugit, whose adulthood has been a fascinating slow drift away from perhaps the most shallow but also most likable teenaged protagonist of the century so far. Between Gone Girl and this, who thought Will Miller could potentially become one of our great onscreen pricks?

And a big hand in particular to both cinematographer Sean Price Williams and composer Keegan DeWitt. Williams has more than proven himself as one of the best young cinematographers working right now (wait'll I write my review of Heaven Knows What, if I can), and here he finds new purpose for Perry's jittery, anxious close-up aesthetic, trapping us in Catherine's head. And DeWitt, tasked with making a score for Listen Up Philip that sounds like a needle-drop selection of jazz standards, is here tasked with a resonant-yet-claustrophobic, reed-and-percussion-built score that feels more like something out a Jeff Nichols film, to say nothing of early Polanski. These two are bringing true artistry to the often insular world of American Independent cinema, and bless them for it.

Ultimately, I wasn't as rapt with Queen of Earth on my first viewing I was with The Color Wheel or Listen Up Philip on their firsts. However, I was still pretty rapt. The film's tension is admirably sustained, to the point where I didn't realize just how engaged and nervous I was until the film's final shot. And of course, Elizabeth Moss forever. I can tell this one is going to stick with me.

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mitch f. anderson liked this review