Cinema is Truth: Princess Cyd (2017)
“It is not a handicap to have one thing, but not another. To be one way, and not another. We are different shapes and ways, and our happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance.”
Written & Directed by: Stephen Cone
Review by: Brittany Alyse
The film begins on black, a horrified voice on a 911 call. Two people have been shot, dead. One sole survivor: a little girl who slept through the entire attack. A tragedy, and we never see any of it.
Despite the film’s jarring opening, PRINCESS CYD is a beautiful piece on womanhood, curiosity, life and love - familial love, romantic love, platonic love - between women. I was mesmerized by the conversations between Miranda and Cyd. Musings that were truthful and felt so very natural.
Cyd’s father - who we never see on screen - is a depressive man who is at his wits end with his daughter, Cyd (Jessie Pinnick). He calls his sister-in-law, Miranda (Rebecca Spence), and asks her to take Cyd for a couple weeks. “We are constantly at each other’s throats,” he says on the phone with Miranda, who agrees to take her in, although a little reluctant. The phone call is brief, but there’s a lot about it to unpack: A wife-less father. A motherless daughter. We don’t need to see Cyd in order to know who she is: she is the survivor from the 911 call at the beginning of the film.
Miranda hasn’t seen Cyd since after the funeral of her sister, Cyd’s mother. When Miranda and Cyd reunite, we learn that these women have not occupied the same space for more than 10 years - no holidays spent, no birthdays - seemingly nothing.
No two people are the same, and in Cyd and Miranda’s case, they’re complete opposites.
Miranda, a famous author, is a full-on spiritualist. She has never left the hometown she grew up in. She lives in the house she was raised in, has kept most of the furniture, too. She spends her off-time reading, weaving stories and helping friends with their own. She’s a religious woman who enjoys her solitude. Who maybe stays inside a little too much. Who likes her quiet life. And when Cyd arrives, it’s clear that what Miranda enjoys, Cyd does not.
“I don’t read,” Cyd proclaims as Miranda shows her the vast book collection in the room she’s occupying. Cyd takes out her phone and asks for the WiFi password. Miranda likes books. Cyd likes her phone.
Cyd is an adventurous sixteen year-old girl with a wandering mind, who often speaks before her mind can make the decision on whether it’s a good idea or not. She oversteps, but there’s genuine curiosity within her that sort of makes the overstepping okay. Cyd plays soccer back home. She has a kind-of boyfriend, who she says is just “fine.” She likes meeting new people. She has a lot of questions and speaks her mind.
Oh, and she’s an atheist, too. Which makes for interesting conversation about her late mother when Cyd pointedly asks Miranda, “Do you really believe we’ll see her again? Is that what you truly believe?” There is lingering trauma between these women. It is unspoken, but very much present.
Though different, Cyd and Miranda’s arcs are completely intertwined. They are two women trying to figure it out at different stages in their lives as they both try to navigate the space around them and between them. Cyd constantly tests Miranda, asking her questions about her spirituality, her (nonexistent) sex life, resulting in very challenging conversations. With that, Miranda influences Cyd to understand more; to read and find joy in stories, to dig deeper into her emotional being. Cyd imprints on Miranda, too, and inspires her to join her out to sunbathe - to free herself of the confinements of her household and embrace the outside world, to be in nature.
While in town, Cyd meets a Barista named Katie (Malic White). There’s an immediate attraction between these two characters. It’s uncharted territory for Cyd. This is where one of the film’s best conversations come into play. Miranda digs up an old swimsuit and joins Cyd to sunbathe. The two women, drenched in dreamy sunlight, lay side-by-side. Content. Then Cyd turns to Miranda and asks, bluntly: “Do you ever have sex?” Miranda, surprised, can’t help but dissolve into a fit of giggles at first. Probably due to shock. She admits, “It’s been awhile.”
“Awhile” turns out to be five years, and Cyd can’t hide her surprise. Then, after a moment, Cyd tells Miranda that she wants to have sex with Katie. “Is that weird?” Cyd asks, unsure. “Not at all. Your mother had a thing with a girl once. It was lovely.” This revelation is validation to Cyd, the thing she needs to truly move forward. “How do you do it?” Cyd asks, and Miranda replies in giggles, proclaiming, “You’re gonna have to Google that.”
Despite Miranda’s encouraging nature, Cyd ultimately fails to reciprocate that to Miranda. During an annual party Miranda hosts for her literary pals, Miranda is reading to her guests and Cyd ducts out to fool around with the son of one of the guests. This irks Miranda but she lets it go - not for long, though. As they clean up, Miranda decides that she’s going to have one more piece of cake, to which Cyd replies, “Maybe if you had sex more you wouldn’t want to eat all the time.” Immediately when these words slip from her mouth, Cyd cringes. Miranda is still.
In that moment, Rebecca Spence gives an absolutely stunning monologue. I thought about the many ways I could describe it, about how I could deconstruct it and wonder about it. But I fell short, because nothing I say will ever do it justice. So, here it is, in its entirety:
“Let me just say something to you real quick. It’s okay, but I need you to listen to me, okay? I wish I could share with you the utter joy it brings me to spend three hours on a Saturday afternoon reading - or discussing - T.S. Elliot or James Baldwin with a dear friend until dawn - but, I can’t. Because I am me and you are you, I can’t relay to you the total fulfillment that I get from these things, it’s impossible. And I understand. You’re finding your own joy. You’re engaging your own stuff, and that’s how it should be, and it’s a beautiful thing. But hear me. It is not a handicap to have one thing, but not another. To be one way, and not another. We are different shapes and ways and happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance. So let’s just enjoy ourselves.”
Miranda’s frustration comes from a place of love, not anger. She wants their bond to solely be based on mutual respect. It’s all anyone can ask for, really. And what she says is so universally true. Our happiness is not equal to anothers. We are all our own people, and we should wholly embrace that.
I really admire the way this film handles sexuality and gender. Though this film gives us no labels, I kept wondering if Miranda’s self-proclaimed celibacy was a hint that she is asexual. One of my favorite exchanges toward the end of the film is when Cyd attends a Q&A of Miranda’s, and gets up to ask her a question. “What is your greatest pleasure in life? Like, joy?” Cyd asks. Thoughtful and smirking, Miranda takes no time to reply: “Cake,” Miranda says, and it’s the perfect callback to their confrontation in the kitchen.
Cyd’s openness and her sexual exploration is a wide range of tastes. We see her with her “boyfriend” before she heads to Chicago. We see the sparks fly with Katie. We also see her fool around with the gardener/son of one of Miranda’s bookish friends. We hear it when one of Miranda’s friends asks Cyd what she likes. “I like… everything,” Cyd replies, like it’s the simplest thing in the world.
Katie, with her hair fashioned in a mohawk and her androgynous wardrobe, gets mistaken for a boy while her and Cyd are on a rooftop. Later, when Cyd tells Miranda about Katie, she proclaims, “She kind of looks like a boy.” Without missing a beat, Miranda replies, “Maybe she is a boy.” And Cyd, reflecting, replies: “Yeah, maybe so.”
The casual way Stephen Cole introduces these LGBTQ+ themes into his story is refreshing. Sometimes we need to see queer characters just be. We don’t need dramatic revelations, as great as they can be. Sometimes, we just want to see ourselves on screen, just existing. It’s reassuring.
PRINCESS CYD is a sunkissed, sweet little film about women understanding one another, aided beautifully by the flowering performances of the two lead actresses. I certainly hope we see more films like this, that take the time to explore women and how much we influence and impact each other on positive levels.