In the new movie Always Shine, the friendship between two actresses combusts, blown apart by competition and the external pressures they both face as women in Hollywood. Beth (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is more tolerant of the injustices of the system and, not coincidentally, more successful — the film opens with her agreeing to do nude scenes. Anna (Mackenzie Davis) is less compliant. She is angry at the sexism she faces daily and about the way her career has stalled.
The pressures women face — and the insecurity that comes with them — are common topics in women’s media, but they’re discussed far less frequently in film. Writer-director Sophia Takal, who’s best known for previous indie projects including Green, Wild Canaries, and Gabi on the Roof in July, is trying to change that. Takal has cited Robert Altman, John Cassavetes, and Ingmar Bergman as influences in shaping how women are portrayed onscreen; she hopes to add a female voice to that list.
In the lobby of the Village East Cinema, Takal, Fitzgerald, and Davis talked to me about the movie, the election, and the expectations placed on women. “What was really cool about the [presidential] debates was that it was a real dramatization of these experiences that women go through on a day-to-day basis in the workplace, in their relationships,” Takal said.
Davis, a native Canadian, said she intends to stay in the country despite her disagreements with the president-elect: “I benefit from being here. I like being here. I think it’s sort of better to be in the midst of it. I am in a very privileged position because of my class, my skin color, my occupation. And so I’d rather be a part of the conversation than act like I should flee because I’m not really at risk either way. Although I’ll tell you, I’ve never been more scared to be a woman.”
The women all voiced their fear of having Trump as president, with Fitzgerald likening his win to a scene from a famous film trilogy: “I think the whole world is [at risk]. I keep thinking of that moment in The Lord of The Rings where Sam says to Frodo, ‘We’re not cut out to carry the ring to Mordor. We should just go back to the Shire.’ And Frodo says, ‘There won’t be a Shire.’”
Fitzgerald revealed how her brother could not understand what it meant for women to be objectified. She explained to him, “There’s a feeling, at least that happens for me, when men call attention to my body or tell me to smile where I lose myself. I become that object for a moment and it’s really disorienting, like the ground ceases to exist under my feet. And I’m, like, a very articulate, smart person and I suddenly become just an object. And here he is at 25 and he didn’t know what that meant. It really came home to me how singular an experience that is for us and how daily it is for us.”
Davis, who has been praised for her recent role in Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode about a woman with a lifelong secret, was candid about how she could relate to playing Anna. “It’s a very specific type of woman that I think Anna hates, and kind of wishes she knew how to play the game in that way. Then, once she becomes that thing, it’s awful. It’s not authentic. I have felt this way and I think a lot of women have felt this way — of trying on different identities and hats and trying to articulate what the right way to be is, because there’s so much information about how one should be. But the imitation of a person doesn’t feel better than the wrong way of being you.”
When asked what she thought Always Shine would be like if it focused on two male friends, Takal said, “I actually feel like a movie like this about men would be very good right now. I think hypermasculinity is destroying men. I really hope that men start to speak out against these labels or these expectations that are being foisted on them in the same way that women have been for the past 30 years talking about how it’s damaging to us. Ultimately feminism is meant to create equality and so it benefits men just as much as it benefits women.”