'Actress': Film Review

Courtesy of The Cinema Guild
Straining for poeticism, this hybrid film often falls on the side of pretension

Robert Greene's stylized documentary profiles actress Brandy Burre as she attempts to revive her career after having children

The idea that we're all starring in a movie about our own life is illustrated in Robert Greene's idiosyncratic film that he labels a "nonfiction/melodrama hybrid." Depicting the travails of actress Brandy Burre, whose primary credit is having had a recurring role on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, Actress provides her with the opportunity for the best role of her career, as herself.

Greene, who explored similar territory in his films Fake It So Real and Kati With an I, is a friend and neighbor of his subject, and their closeness is illustrated by the intense immediacy on display. Revealing herself physically and emotionally to his seemingly ever-present camera — he also served as cinematographer — the 40-year-old Burre seems to exemplify the challenges faced by women attempting to balance family and career, with her quest for self-identity providing the film with its dramatic resonance.

Burre gave up her acting career when she became pregnant by her partner, Tim, only three months into their relationship. She eventually had two children and moved to Beacon in upstate New York. There, as she tells the camera not once but twice — as if attempting to convince herself — she made her kids her new "creative outlet."

Read More 'The Wire': Where Are They Now?

But her relationship ends when Tim, seen frequently if casually throughout the proceedings, discovers that she's been having an affair. This prompts her to attempt to revive her career, facing the inevitable obstacles to actresses of a certain age.

"Am I the 'neighborhood beauty,'" she asks her young daughter while perusing a script, only to have the little girl amusingly answer with a resounding "No!" Contemplating an audition that comes with the caveat "Must be comfortable with partial nudity," she wryly comments, "Right up my alley." Meanwhile, her agent not so helpfully tells her that she's "growing into her type."

The film includes such pungent moments as when Burre shows her elderly mother clips of her work on The Wire, taking pains to leave the sex scenes. But a good portion of the cinema verite proceedings, ranging from endless glimpses of her domestic life to footage of her performing an original song in a Greenwich Village cabaret, prove less than arresting.

Read More 'The Wire': Read THR's Original 2002 Review

The director attempts to infuse the film with a dreamy poeticism via slow motion and other stylistic devices, with the results feeling mildly pretentious. It's most effective when it simply allows its subject to bare her soul to the camera, as when, while ruminating about the facial injuries she suffered after a drunken fall, she ruefully comments, "I took the note from the universe."   

Production companies: 4th Row Films, Prewar Cinema
Director: Robert Greene
Cinematographer: Robert Greene

Editor: Robert Greene
Producers: Robert Greene, Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa

No MPAA rating, 86 minutes