USA/ U.K., 108 min
Dir. Simon Rumley
Fashionista is a hypnotic exploration of identity and transformation written and directed by Simon Rumley. The narrative focuses on vintage clothing shop owners April (Amanda Fuller) and Eric (Ethan Embry), whose marriage is tested when April begins to suspect her husband of having an affair. After her suspicions are proven, their lives fall apart. April, seeking validation, attracts the attention of the wealthy, brooding Randall (Eric Balfour). The mysterious stranger quickly begins grooming her for a new and potentially dark lifestyle, while Eric faces losing everything he’s been building thanks to his indiscretions. The chain reaction threatens to cause irrevocable change to both April and Eric.
The film wastes little time throwing you into its chaotic world. Though April and Eric appear to have a happy marriage, their lives are in disarray. There’s no separation between home and work. Their apartment serves as a warehouse for the store, presented as a claustrophobic abyss of used clothing. They’re seemingly lost in the mess, though it will soon be the least of the couple’s issues.
Halfway through the film, April confronts Eric about his affair, and she destroys nearly everything in the apartment. It’s both an act of revenge and liberation. It hurts Eric, but it gives April a fresh start. Suddenly the apartment has decorated walls and floors, and is large and open instead of cavernous and confined. But that isn’t the only change April makes. Randall convinces her to change her eclectic thrift-shop stye, and it’s difficult for April to resist his generosity when he offers her a more expensive lifestyle. The gifts Randall lavishes upon April come with a price, though – increasingly dangerous sexual acts. She goes along for a while, but each takes their toll. Her sense of self begins to crumble.
Simon Rumley uses color, texture, and sound to break apart April’s reality. Bizarre nightmares involving a patchwork girl and scenes of an unnamed woman (Alex Essoe) being released from a hospital create disorientation, but are never puzzling in a way that pulls out of April’s journey. She may be lost in a maze, but the audience is being guided throughout. The outcome is a gamble, but pays off thanks to Rumley.
April is brought to life by Amanda Fuller’s terrific performance. Her descent into madness is perfectly realized and painful to watch. Her nuanced expressions convey as much as her words and Rumley offers many close-ups to capture the subtleties of her performance. She manages to illicit sympathy for her pain and fear at her derangement. The film would not have been nearly as successful without Fuller at the center.
She’s supported by an equally talented group of individuals. Ethan Embry continues to impress. Over the past few years, he’s propelled himself out of mainstream cinema and has steadily built a strong body of genre work. This film is no exception. Eric Balfour was a surprise. Despite his character’s unsavory side, he offered the charm and appeal necessary to lure in April. It’s difficult to speak to Alex Essoe’s performance as the hospitalized woman without getting into details better left to be discovered, but it was great to see her on the big screen again after her noteworthy role in Starry Eyes.
Fashionista is an exciting, modern, and challenging film. Every aspect of the production is top notch. At times like a fever dream, it manages to captivate and satisfy. A must-see for lovers of thought-provoking cinema.