The pre-teen takes three piles of silver dust out of her pocket and arranges them neatly on the floor.
The dust doesn’t look like much at first glance – just messy piles of glitter. But slowly but surely, the dust rises off the ground and, speck by speck, it adheres into solid matter as if by magic. The process takes time, but the end product is worth it to the girl. So she waits.
“Fast Color” is a movie that starts out as piles of silvery dust- not much to look at, not much to get excited about. But eventually the pieces come together and form something rather interesting, I think.
You can call “Fast Color” a comic book movie since nearly every character worth mentioning has a special ability or superpower of some sort. But this felt much more like a novel to me- taking its time to slowly but surely construct these characters and their world.
Patience is a lost cinematic virtue in these days of instant gratification when viewers get a little restless if a movie slows down for five minutes of dialogue between fight scenes. But “Fast Color” proves that some things are worth the wait.
To expound on the plot of “Fast Color” is to deprive the audience of one of the great pleasures of watching it, which is discovering things for themselves. So, instead, we’ll talk in broad strokes for the next few paragraphs.
Ruth (a lovely lead performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has returned home after nearly a decade away. A recovering drug addict, Ruth returns to a world that is very different than when she left it. We’re told that it hasn’t rained for nearly eight years and the Midwest United States has become a pre-dystopian society where water is the most valuable commodity.
The world is broken, Ruth’s mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint, a fierce force of nature even before the superpowers kick in) tells her. “And I know better than anyone that if something’s broken, it stays broken.”
For all its superpowered heroines and impressive special effects, “Fast Color” is a film most concerned about fixing what is broken – ourselves, our relationships, our environment. The script, by director Julia Hart and her husband Jordan Horowitz, doesn’t give any easy answers on how to do this. Even the superheroes have given up hope.
“We’re not superheroes Lila,” Ruth tells her daughter (Saniyya Sidney, the third in a trifecta of pitch-perfect female performances alongside Mbatha-Raw and Toussaint). “We’re just trying to get by.”
Once Ruth returns home, the film takes its time luxuriating in the family’s routine. Lila tries to fix the family car. Ruth shares her old musical records with her daughter and attempts to make a connection. There is a lovely scene where the three main characters simply stand in the kitchen and wash dishes silently. Hart realizes that silence can advance a plot just as well as dialogue and fight scenes, and she utilizes it frequently.
Unlike most exposition-heavy Marvel movies, Hart doesn’t spoon-feed backstory. Real people don’t talk in exposition, and these women – superheroes or not- always come off as real people.
The performances contribute to that effect just as much as the script does. Mbatha-Raw, an actress who doesn’t receive nearly enough leading lady roles, brings a sort of ragged desperation to Ruth that fits the character like a glove. Toussaint brings maternal grace and wisdom, but also shows how those qualities mask her character’s inner pain. Sidney, a relative newcomer, holds her own with the pros as the one person in this family who still maintains a glimmer of hope.
The great David Strathairn is a local sheriff with a connection to the family that surprised me. Christopher Denham is a representative of “the government” (the government is always the bad guy in this sort of story) with an obsessive interest in Ruth and her family.
“Fast Color”, like its heroines, is flawed. Denham is particularly ill-served by the script, which gives him some genuine menace at the beginning, only for him to disappear for the majority of the film’s runtime.
Though the quiet, languid pace of the movie worked for me, I imagine it is something of an acquired taste.
But the film’s biggest misstep comes near its end. Considering Hart’s patience in world-building, it is kind of stunning how badly she fails to stick the landing. The film’s resolution to two of its biggest plot points – the lack of water and Ruth’s struggles to manage her superpowers- feels way too pat and rushed, especially in comparison to the rest of the movie. It did not work for me in the slightest.
Still, in a moviegoing season when Martin Scorsese insists that superhero movies cannot be artful and thought-provoking cinema, “Fast Color” (rated PG-13 for a scene of violence and brief strong language) proves otherwise. It is the rare film that could fuel analysis by literature professors while spawning its own cinematic universe (Amazon Prime has already greenlit a TV series spin-off to be written by Hart and Horowitz).
As you might expect, Hart plants the seeds for a sequel near the end of the film. But unlike those cynical Marvel movie post-credits stingers, this one got me excited for what came next.
Why wouldn’t I want more time in this world? After just an hour and 45 minutes, it already felt like home.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.