A clearly personal effort for its director/screenwriter/star, Victoria Negri's debut feature is notable for the powerful supporting turn by the late Robert Vaughn in his final screen appearance. Delivering a mostly silent performance as the stroke-afflicted father of Negri's central character, the veteran actor embodies the anguish of a once vital man reduced to pointing at words as his sole means of communication.
The semi-autobiographical Gold Star features Negri as Vicki, a twentysomething woman who once aspired to a classical music career but now makes her living, such as it is, working part-time at a health club. Her life changes dramatically when her much older father Carmine (Vaughan) suffers a stroke, leaving Vicki's mother (Catherine Curtin) overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for him.
While many dramas of this type would have presented Vicki as selflessly rising to the challenge of helping to care for her infirm parent, Negri plays her character as self-absorbed and often irritated at her father's childlike helplessness. But then, Vicki is adrift in pretty much every area of her life, including her relationship with her boyfriend (Max Rhyser) which, we eventually learn, has a dark side.
She does, however, find comfort in the form of Chris (Jacob Heimer), with whom she has a meet-cute when they literally bump into each other at the hospital where both their relatives are being treated. Warm, kind and self-effacing, Chris provides the sort of non-judgmental support that Vicki craves more desperately than she realizes.
The deceptively titled film — one would have expected it to concern a military family — has many emotionally resonant moments. But its lack of focus betrays the inexperience of a beginning filmmaker. The narrative frequently wanders into unfulfilling tangents, several of the characters are barely developed and we never get a sure sense of where the story is supposed to be going. We also long to see more interactions between Vicki and Carmine, but he disappears from the action for long stretches at a time.
Negri delivers a compelling turn, conveying Vicki's complex mixture of self-absorption and vulnerability with admirable fearlessness. Also excellent are Curtin, who touchingly conveys the emotional and physical burdens of being a caregiver, and Anna Garduno, who brings fierce energy to her performance as Vicki's aggrieved half-sister.
But it's Vaughn, still looking dashing despite his obvious frailty, who gives the film its emotional core. In the deeply moving final scene, in which Carmine and Vicki sit quietly together on a beach, his plaintive eyes speak far more powerfully than any amount of dialogue.
Production companies: Gold Star Film, Big Vision Creative
Distributor: Turn Key Films
Cast: Victoria Negri, Robert Vaughn, Catherine Curtin, Jacob Heimer, Anna Garduno
Director-screenwriter: Victoria Negri
Producers: Victoria Negri, Katie Maguire, Effie Fradelakis, Ellyn Vander Wyden
Director of photography: Sara Varjabedian
Production designer: Layla Calo-Baird
Editor: Chris Steele-Nicholson
Composer: Ben Levin
Costume designer: Molly Maguire