I recently had the pleasure of volunteering for the Women’s International Film Festival. The opening night gala was held at the Gusman Theater and hosted many of Miami’s finest and best dressed, myself included.
On that Friday night, March 28, I had the joy of sitting in the elaborate theater called the Gusman and partook in a little film called Steam, which enjoyed its world premiere that night. Steam is an intersecting story about three different women who use a sauna as a way to cope with their lives’ hardships.
Doris (played by the Ruby Dee) is a recent widow, so knocked down by her husband’s death she has become a recluse, hounded by her church’s nosy posse. That is, until a nice old man named Otis (Dick Anthony Williams) enters the picture.
Laurie (Ally Sheedy) is constantly bullied by her ex-husband about her child. She meets a younger man, Roy (played by Alan Ritchson), who shows her how to stand up for herself. And, Elizabeth (Kate Siegel) has decided to dabble in lesbianism, but can’t seem to come clean to her religiously rigid parents.
In my Novel class in college, I learned that there are two ways to tell a story: 1. Someone comes in from out of town and stirs things up, and 2. Someone goes on a journey to find themselves.
In keeping with that line of thought, screenwriter and director Kyle Schickner made sure no character is the same at the end of the story. In Steam, all three women go on a journey, even though they never leave New Jersey. Each woman has to find her inner voice to stand up for herself.
Now, my thinking has always been, not many people can bring their own script to the screen. Screenwriter and director are two different jobs, requireing entirely different skills. However, some people can pull it off. I’m not sure if Schickner is one of those people, though. The movie is pretty decent in directing and writing, except for the very slow start. It takes a little too long to get into the story, but once you’re into it, it’s actually pretty good.
That’s not to say, however, that I thought the movie is great. There are some details I didn’t like. Film editor Thom Obarski put in average effort, nothing more, nothing less. The transitions in the beginning of the movie (up to and including the introduction) are sloppy. It was like watching a student film; which is bad because this isn’t Obarski’s first movie.
In the acting department, Sheedy and Dee held their own as veterans of the craft. I have to give Sheedy credit for being able to bounce off Zach Mills (who plays her son). In the beginning, Mills overacts and Sheedy has a visible struggle. Then again, by the middle of the movie, Mills seems to work out his issues and gives a decent performance.
Siegel, who looks like she’s on a stimulant for most of the film, gives a vacant performance. After seeing her in person, I realized that’s how she looks normally, i.e., her wide-eyed expressions come naturally. But, this type of look doesn’t translate well to the screen. Siegel needs a little more practice, but gave her best effort.
Other actors of note are Cylk Cozart, who plays William, Otis’ successful and arrogant son. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Cozart, who has enjoyed a long career as a guest star and minor character.
And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chelsea Handler, who plays Jacky, Laurie’s best friend. Handler was first recognized on the hidden camera show Girls Behaving Badly; which is a favorite of mine. Currently, Handler has her own talk show, Chelsea Lately, on the E! network. Honestly, I don’t find Handler’s brand of comedy funny, but she is quite refreshing in Steam.
As a whole, Steam is a collaborative effort that is a little hard to get into in the beginning.
But once the film settles into its groove, it is a moving story about three women who find their inner voice and are liberated.
Photo: Ruby Dee