Review and Interview by Bears Fonte
Jordana Spiro’s feature debut NIGHT COMES ON opens powerfully. A young woman, a juvenile offender, waits her re-entry into the world as a cacophony of voices discuss her and her situation. Like many people in her situation, she is left without a voice. Its also a hell of a way to get a character’s back story out. “I wanted to very quickly capture the feeling that when you are a foster,” says Spiro, “you have an entire group of people who are making decisions for you and about you, and not really including you in the conversation.”
The film, which made its world premiere at Sundance in the NEXT section and garnered Spiro the NEXT Innovator Award, follows Angel Lamere (Dominique Fishback) as she plans to celebrate her eighteenth birthday by killing her father, the man who killed her mother. Once she gets her freedom back, she spends the better of part of two days crossing the city to enact her revenge, often alone. “I really wanted the movie to be very much a journey we’re on with her where there is a lot of silence,” says the director, “we can have a sympathetic understanding of her, even though she’s trying to do this irreversible and inconceivable thing.” The opening of the film was an attempt to do that as efficiently as possible so “we could just be with her.”
Spiro, who you may recognize as actress from OZARK, met her co-writer on NIGHT COMES ON through a foster youth organization called Peace for Kids. “I was trying to find a little bit more meaning in my work in trying to find a way to be a part of telling stories that allow women to be strong and detailed,” she explains, “I wanted to set the story there.” At the time, the Executive Director of the organization introduced her to Angelica Nwandu, who had recently aged out of the program. She remembers “I said ‘I’d really like to write this with somebody who’s aged out, so they can speak to this experience firsthand.’ It would be the biggest regret of my life if I got it wrong because I was really standing in admiration of it. Also, I love writing with a cowriter.”
At the time, the script was about Angel and her little brother, but was very much Angel’s story. As the co-writers worked, the brother became a sister and the character of Abby became almost important as Angel. “[Angelica] has four sisters, I have three sisters, and we developed a sisterly relationship,” says Spiro “she and I both have strong opinions and we challenge each other. That the film became about two sisters that challenge each other to see in themselves their highest selves and their possibilities, was an organic way the script turned.”
The relationship between Angel and her younger sister (played by Tatum Marilyn Hall) is so honest and real, it feels like a gust of fresh air. We are only a few years removed from a Palme d’Or Cannes line-up with no female directors. Post-Harvey-Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, NIGHT COMES ON is a gift to audiences really hungry for women telling women’s stories (not a ‘woman’s story’ at all, but a story that feels like it is coming from a woman rather than through a man’s appropriation).
“I think so much of what’s going on right now is this incredible bubbling-up and boiling-over of so much that has been swallowed and silenced,” says the director, “I feel like for so long, every year, there was some female director who managed to get attention put onto their film, and everyone would say, ‘Oh, see, the tide is turning.’ And then nothing would happen. This year it feels different.”
In addition to the content, there is the way of shooting the scenes. For much of the film, Angel is held in these long, weighty shots where you’re with her and you’re trying to be in her head. But she is a closed door in many ways. Spiro says its rare that we get to see a woman like that. “I think they are either very accessible,” she says, “or they’re mysterious because of their overt sexuality. But to sit with a female character where you don’t quite know what she’s thinking, I think comes with its own challenge. Of course, Clint Eastwood can have an entire career where you’re just watching the nuances of his jaw line and you’re loving it. I think we don’t expect that from women and it’s tricky to take in. It might not sit comfortably with people. But for me it was interesting and exciting.”
NIGHT COMES ON premiered at Sundance Film Festival and continues its festival circuit this weekend, making its Midwest premiere at the CAPITAL CITY FILM FESTIVAL in Michigan.