Writer and Director: Kelly Walker
(BFI Flare was cancelled, but some films were still available to review remotely. Other films are available to watch on BFI Flare at Home)
This first feature by Kelly Walker is a quiet and sometimes quirky examination of grief. It tells the story of two women trying to cope after the death of the woman central to their lives, the Fiona of the title. With strong performances from its two leads, My Fiona is a clever, if predictable, debut by Walker.
The film takes a few minutes to settle and it’s hard to gauge the tone in its early moments. Fiona dies so suddenly and grotesquely – you see her body fly past a window after jumping off an office block – that it’s almost comical. At the wake, Fiona’s best friend and business partner Jane loses her temper with a couple voicing their own reasons to why Fiona committed suicide. Again, this outburst verges on the humorous, and in these initial scenes Jeanette Maus as Jane channels a little of Sandra Bullock’s kookiness.
Fiona has also left a wife and a son, and in offering to mind him, Jane finds herself drawn to this broken family. She gets on well with Bailey, picking him up from school each day, and then spending time with him before businesswoman Gemma comes home from work. Jane brings lightness and silliness to Bailey’s days while Gemma, played coolly by Corbin Reid, seems short-tempered and overworked.
But in missing Fiona, Jane and Gemma are drawn to each other, eager to fill the gap in their lives. This attraction for another woman is new for Jane, and when she meets her ex-boyfriend she wonders whether her desire for Gemma means that she is a lesbian. However, according to the director’s notes we should see this movie as an exploration of bisexuality, but also, hearteningly, the genders of the film’s protagonists are unimportant. At its core, My Fiona is a study in mourning.
In every scene, Maus is an engaging actor, and it’s hard not to empathise with her confusion, especially when she is playing with Bailey. In contrast we never see Gemma hanging out with her son, and so it’s a credit to Reid that we do eventually warm to her, helped when the camera lingers openly on her face. As Bailey, Elohim Nycalove gives a heart-warming performance and no doubt we will see more of this young actor in the future.
Many times through the film, the plot verges on a whodunnit, as the two women try to discover the reasons for Fiona’s suicide, but as we reach the film’s final third, it becomes clearer that Walker has other more universal aims in mind. However, these universal themes are perhaps too broad and the film’s therapeutic turn is too easy, and ultimately too bittersweet.
My Fiona is a fleeting look at the emotional landscape that appears in the wake of a death of a loved one. It is also a snapshot of how America deals with these emotional and psychological issues as psychotherapy and prescriptions for depression and ADHD are revealed in the search for answers. Jane’s own crutch of cigarettes and alcohol are seen as better cures. Though the best cure, this film suggests, is time.