A tough, but heartfelt, way to say goodbye to Robert Vaughn.
A few months ago, at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, I came across a feature film called Gold Star, which ended up winning the festival’s award for “Best Feature Film.” The film was the directorial debut of Victoria Negri, who is also the producer and writer, and who stars in the lead role. After touring festivals, Gold Star is receiving a short theatrical release this Friday at Cinema Village, as well as becoming available on Amazon.
The film centers around a young woman named Vicki, who is a music school dropout, and leads an aimless life. She works as a fitness instructor and spends most of her free time hanging out with her carefree boyfriend. One night, her 90-year-old father suffers a near-fatal stroke, and is hospitalized. After being treated at the hospital, he is allowed to come home, but is nearly an invalid, and has to be cared for 24/7.
Though Vicki does love her father, she wants almost nothing to do with the situation, and leaves to be with her boyfriend when her presence is needed the most. Even when she is there caring for her father, she vents her own frustration out loud. This places a tremendous amount of stress on Vicki’s mother, as well as on her estranged aunt, who has moved in to help out—that is, when she is not venting her own frustration on where she stands with the family. Along the way, Vicki meets a young man, named Chris, who is going through a similar situation with his own father. They spark a friendship, and possibly something more.
The character of Vicki is not exactly the most likeable character you’d see in a movie, since she avoids responsibility at every opportunity, and is less than compassionate when it comes to other people, particularly her aunt. If you really look closely at her behavior, as well as at the events in the film, you’d see that her attitude comes out of fear, and she has a lot, including fear of not succeeding in life, of losing her father, and of what the future expects of her. This is evident in one scene where Vicki is sitting at a piano, about to play, but stops under pressure, unable to (ahem) face the music.
The film has an unpopulated, bleak, and somewhat melancholic look, thanks to some great location scouting, as well as great cinematography by Saro Varjabedian. This type of setting, including the gym that Vicki works at and the route she takes to and from her boyfriend’s house, fits her dilemma, as if she is limiting herself with respect to what she is capable of and the people she surrounds herself with. In a way, the film’s atmosphere reminds me of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.
Negri does a splendid job in the role of Vicki, especially since she was wearing many hats in the making of this film. One example of her fantastic performance occurs in a scene where Vicki is lying down on Chris’s bed after her treats a bruise she had gotten. The camera lingers on her face, zooming in, for about a minute. Negri shows so much emotion in this moment alone, and the absence of dialogue allows the audience to feel what she is feeling. The camera is on Negri for most of the film, a bold move on her part, although I wish we were able see more of Robert Vaughn as her on-screen father.
While we’re on the subject, Gold Star is the last film role for veteran actor and star Robert Vaughn, who passed away in 2016. His role is not easy to watch, considering it is that of a man in poor health. Nevertheless, Vaughn does an exceptional job. The film offers several nods to Vaughn’s previous work, particularly for his role in The Magnificent Seven (1960), including a cowboy hat appearing in his closet, as well as his character’s love of watching cowboy movies. Special praise also needs to be given to Catherine Curtin, who plays Vicki’s mother. There is one scene where she is resting from a long day of caring for her husband, only to be woken up. The scene is brief, but her performance perfectly captures the mixture of frustration, sadness, and guilt one may feel when caring for a loved one. I’ve personally seen my share of elderly care, and trust me, it is pretty accurate.
According to Negri, Gold Star was a personal project for her, as she had cared for her own ailing father. I think that that sincerity is present throughout the film. It may be difficult to watch at times for its subject matter, but it is well acted and raw in its approach to its characters. It is not always easy to tell a personal story on the big screen and succeed, but Negri has put her heart and soul into this film, and has managed to stand out amongst a swarm of new generation filmmakers. Stay Gold, Negri!
NOTE: Additional extra praise needs to be given to the sound mixing as well. There were a few times where Vicki’s phone is ringing, and I thought it was my own, even though I knew the ringtone wasn’t mine.
Gold Star will be open at Cinema Village (22 E 12th St) and be available on Amazon on Friday, November 10th.
Tickets can be purchased here.