La Barracuda SXSW Movie Review
Film is reviewed from the 2017 SXSW Film Festival screening
When first see Sinaloa (Sophie Reid), a young woman with long, black hair, she is taking a midnight swim. We next see her moving around next to a bed in a home by a lake, a naked unmoving sleeping body rests as Sinaloa moves around the room. We see her gather what looks to be all of her possessions and stuff them into a backpack. We see her as she backpacks across the countryside, sometimes walking, sometimes hitching a ride on a car, truck or cargo train. She seems comfortable doing this as if it’s something she has done for what seems like her whole life.
Sinaloa ends up in Austin and heads straight for a local cemetery, where she finds a grave with a headstone. She pulls incense out of her bag and places it in front of the headstone, which we can’t see fully. She then pulls out a pint of whiskey, taking a sip before pouring the rest overthe grave. Soon we see her walking in one of those quirky neighborhoods that Austin is known for, houses that have been lovingly restored by the people living in them. It’s a nice neighborhood full of families, that while they don’t make a ton of money, still are doing pretty well. She stops at one of the nice looking house, knocks on the front door and looks through windows when no one answers. Resigned to the fact that no one is home, she plants herself on the porch swing, seemingly determined to wait there until someone comes home.
It’s night when we see a car pull into the driveway as Sinaloa waits on the porch in the dark. We hear happy voices talking as a family approaches the porch, obviously having been on some outing. Merle (Allison Tolman) turns on the porch light, looking for her keys to open the front door when Sinaloa makes her presence known. Merle is taken aback as her finance, Raul (Luis Bordonada) and his son appear on the porch. Sinaloa asks if Merle is the daughter of Wayne Klein, a famous deceased singer/songwriter. When Merle tells her yes she is, Sinaloa introduces herself as her long lost half-sister, the product of the late singer spending some time in England.
Reluctantly Merle and her family let Sinaloa into their home. Once inside she insists to Merle that she isn’t there for anything. That she already knows that she wasn’t written into the will. All Sinaloa wanted was just to meet her half-sister, and maybe get a singing gig or two in Austin. At the insistence of Raul, Merle asks Sinaloa to spend the night, offering to take her to town the next day. This encounter, between two sisters who never knew each other before, is going to have significant consequences for both of their lives.
Directors Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin (from a script by Cortland) bring us a remarkable tale of two strangers who are bound by blood trying to figure out their relationship, a relationship that neither of them knew they needed. The two sisters had very different childhoods. Merle was the recognized daughter of this songwriter legend, her place in the family firmly situated, so much so that she has inherited the family ranch, which is the house she now lives in. Just the opposite is Sinaloa, a troubled daughter from a long forgotten waitress in a Brighton bar, the result of her father’s need for isolation to write songs. While Merle inherited the property of her late father, Sinaloa inherited the talent, someone who can sing and write songs that people will pay attention to.
I have loved Allison Tolman, who plays Merle, since her breakout role in the first season of Fargo. In La Barracuda, Tolman gives a powerful performance of a woman who has become tired of living in the spotlight of her father, the fans constantly showing up at her house or her father’s grave. When we first meet Merle, she seems to have everything under control, but due to Sinaloa’s presence, we soon learn that Merle’s world isn’t as perfect as she wants or hopes it to be. Tolman quietly gives a multi-layered performance that slowly peels back the coating over time and lets us see that Merle is as much damaged by her childhood as Sinaloa is. Under a lesser actress, the part could have been lost, as Sinaloa’s character has a way to dominate the room, but we are always conscious that Tolman is in each and every scene.
Making her feature-film debut lead in the complex role of Sinaloa is Sophie Reid, a talented musician, and actress whose only other movie credit is Village Lass in this year’s Beauty and the Beast. Reid is given the challenging role making someone who is hard and jaded likable, but she carries it off by giving Sinaloa a hint of vulnerability. Reid has a beautiful, soulful voice and the film utilizes it to the maximum effect. It’s a powerful performance, one full of danger and intrigue, which gives Reid command of the screen in everything she is in. I am excited to see more of this talented actress in performances down the line.
La Barracuda captures the Austin scene beautifully and lets this intriguing story of lost sisters trying to slowly reconnect with a sudden and jarring conclusion. La Barracuda is a film that grips you from the start and won’t let go long after the movie on the screen is finished. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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