Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Fast Color is a unique take on the superhero movie. It is about women who have hidden from the world because of what they can do and how they think they will be treated. It is not an action movie with wild adventures, secret identities or maniacal villains. It is about these people and how their power makes them feel. Director Julia Hart uses her premise to look at motherhood, addiction, feminism, female persecution, climate change and the connection between generations. But this is not a lecture or a message disguised as a movie. It is a really entertaining, beautifully directed, engagingly acted drama, that just so happens to include those things during the course of its narrative.
Fast Color is set in a near future where humans have harmed our environment to the point where water is a precious, dwindling resource, with no rainfall in a very long time. The protagonist is Ruth, who is on the run as the story opens. She suffers from seizures that cause earthquakes, making her the target of a shadowy group that wants to harness her abilities. Her journey leads her back home where she reconnects with her past and tries to come to terms with who she is.
This takes place amid a bleak landscape of empty towns, run down bars and barren fields. Life is difficult and hope is hard to come by. Yet Hart still finds beauty in this world. There is a scene involving three characters sitting at a table, one on each end, one in between them. The one in the middle demonstrates her power for them. The camera keeps all three in frame before circling the table, capturing the wonder and discovery of the moment. That is how I felt during a lot of Fast Color. There are a few scenes (as well as a couple of characters) that seem a little superfluous. Its heart is with Ruth and her family. When it focuses on them instead of plot, it is touching and captivating.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Ruth, a nervous, wounded woman, recently drug-free, haunted by trauma, struggling to understand herself. When we first meet her, she is scared and cautious. All the information we learn is given gradually, subtly. There are no large exposition dumps. Nobody tells each other things they would already know. Mbatha-Raw gives a tender, carefully studied performance. Hart allows her small moments where a look or gesture can add unspoken details. This is such a complex role and Mbatha-Raw unravels her mysteries slowly and believably. She plays her not as a hero, but as someone with a power she does not know how to wield.
As her mother, Bo, Lorraine Toussaint is guarded, worried and loving. She carries the weight of generations of women on her shoulders. It is a role with a more straightforward arc, but the story is mainly about their relationship and what it means to them personally. Bo is a clichéd character: the put-upon mother helping her daughter despite the dangers she represents. Toussaint makes her slightly more unpredictable than that. Her motivations are obvious, though kept close enough to the vest to preserve the movie’s surprises. It is a valuable supporting performance that helps give the climax its impact.
With the way superheroes currently fill up multiplexes seemingly on a weekly basis, Fast Color (96 minutes, without the end credits) is a nice counterpoint. It treats its people as real, taking their powers seriously. What does it mean to discover you can do amazing things just as you begin to discover yourself? What effect can that have on the world? It is a sci-fi fantasy that is really a drama that intersects with those genres. Fast Color is not getting a wide release but, if any of what I wrote sounds interesting, seek it out. It is worth it.
4 out of 5
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth
Lorraine Toussaint as Bo
Saniyya Sidney as Lila
David Strathairn as Ellis
Christopher Denham as Bill
Directed by Julia Hart
Written by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz