Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: AWOL
By Andrea Thompson
There are few things more frustrating than opportunities thrown away. Joey (Lola Kirke of “Mistress America”) doesn't exactly have a lot of them, but she does have a good chance of escaping her small town in Pennsylvania by signing up for the Army. But love threatens to stop her in her tracks when she meets the much older, married Rayna (Breeda Wool). Soon, their desperation to be together drives them to plan something which Joey would ultimately pay the price for. Kirke gives an amazing performance, but it's Wool who has the harder role, and effortlessly shines. Her Rayna is an extremely sexual woman who lives in a trailer and is derided as white trash by many of the locals, and Wool makes her a mostly sympathetic portrait of manic desperation as she wavers between what she knows and a potential new life that Joey encourages her to reach for, in spite of everyone's warnings. It's hard not to think of “Carol,” another lesbian love story that made gender and sexuality part of the story without letting it define their characters. But while those women were held back by societal norms, Rayna and Joey are trapped by economics. The rural environment they call home, with all the expected lack of opportunities, is depicted with a insider's sensitivity to its complex dynamics which is rarely seen, along with the harsh realities of working class life. But as Joey makes one wrong turn after another, her tender romance becomes bars on a cage that slowly but surely seals her in. It would be an even better experience if Joey's choices were less baffling, and the end of the road more unexpected.