No matter how much you dream, reality will catch up to you.
The Fever and the Fret is about a shy teenaged girl named Eleanor, who lives in the Bronx with her grandmother, and was born with peculiar birthmarks on her face. She is consistently mocked at school, particularly by one girl named Carly, and tries to avoid going there as much as possible. The fact that Eleanor barely talks about her struggles does her no favors. One day, after Carly torments Eleanor by applying make-up to her birthmarks, Eleanor retaliates and smears menstrual blood on Carly’s face, leading her to press charges. As she awaits the day of her trial, Eleanor ponders the events of her life and tries to determine what parts were real and which ones weren’t.
While at home, Eleanor stares at the water stains on her bathroom wall, which transforms into an alternate world where she goes to escape her current situation. There, she comes across a baby, Lea, who has her same birthmarks, and grows in age every time Eleanor visits until she reaches her age. This world seems to be the only place Eleanor can go to and not feel the torment she experiences in her daily, and after seeing what Eleanor’s daily life looks like, you would probably want to stay in that world with her too.
This film is the writing and directorial debut of Cath Gulick. In the film’s press kit, she states that the ‘pairing of realism and magic in this story make a strange and wonderful blend that both cinephiles and the young at heart will be drawn to.’ Also mentioned numerous times in the press kit is how Gulick and the filmmakers tried to make the film on a tight budget. As a cinephile, myself, I can say that this film is indeed strange, but I’m not sure if wonderful is a proper description of this film, and this is not criticism.
On a small budget, the film will not achieve the visuals dark realistic fantasies like Jim Henson’s Labryinth. It does, however, manage to tell a moving story about a teenager trying to escape her troubled life, only for her life to affect her fantasy life. I honestly think the film could have benefitted with a little more time in the alternate world, but the story is well realized thanks to Adelina Amosco, who gives an exceptionally brave performance as Eleanor. She demonstrates that the eyes are probably the most expressive part of the body, and sometimes just the look in your eyes is enough to relay a feeling.
Something to note is that of the producers on this film is Victoria Negri, who shone on the big screen last year with her directorial debut, ‘Gold Star,’ which I previously reviewed. I can almost see the attraction she would have to a project like this since a character is dealing with a harsh reality she cannot escape from, so she gets lost in her own little world. The only difference is that this film has a more metaphysical edge, and plays more like a modern realistic fantasy, at least in the way the fantasy part is presented.
The world that Eleanor escapes to is a rather interesting one, with a vibe that combines the aura of both Where the Wild Things Are and The Tree of Life. It is presented in color in order to contrast with Eleanor’s black-and-white reality. Aspects of cinematography like that I can understand and appreciate, while things like going in and out of focus feels unnecessary, and it happens far too often. Eleanor’s look-a-like, Lea, played by Ivory Aquino, whom you may recognize from Dustin Lance Black’s ABC miniseries When We Rise, is also an interesting aspect of this world. She is likely a mirror image of Eleanor, and how she could fix her life and make it grand and wonderful. With a small budget and a vague story presentation, that’s what I take away from it.
There is one scene, however, that stood out for me, and helped me understand the power this kind of story possesses. When Eleanor’s teacher, Ms. Changho, visits Eleanor in prison after her initial arrest, she gives Eleanor a tough-love talk about overcoming her current situation. When asked ‘Doesn’t that all mean anything to you?’, Eleanor responds with a direct “No.’ This moment perfectly illustrates the toll that bullying can take on an individual, and how it can crush one’s hope for the future. Despite that, though, one has to be willing to stand up and face their reality, because reality will eventually catch up with you, as it does to Eleanor.
The Fever and the Fret will premiere on March 23 at 8:15 at Museum of the Moving Image – Redstone as part of the “Up Close and Personal” block for the Queens World Film Festival.