By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Is This Now (2017), the fourth feature from writer-director Joe Scott, is exceptional. Scott perfectly conveys the inward isolation of the socially awkward lead of the drama, Ingrid (in a transcendent and layered portrayal from Sabrina Dickens), to masterful consequence. The Ace Film production just as potently operates as an emotionally resonant observation of the healing power of art. Namely, music.
This is immediately evident in the painfully private and brooding opening moments of the 96-minute configuration. Such resounds with an edgy, almost surreal sensibility. It is one which is instantly absorbing. With the combination of song and successfully administered tone unveiled in the effort, this three-minute sequence calls to mind a grimly stylish video. This is for a number that can be easily assessed as a soul-bearing, #1 hit. As the endeavor moves forward, Scott’s photoplay becomes relatively lighter at times. Still, Ingrid’s anguish and anxiety, caused from a dark history of abuse, is always at the forefront. This gives way to a finale that is too abrupt. Nonetheless, it is genuinely shocking. Not even the conventional romantic beats and sparks of optimism that flower in the second half can dilute the sheer effectiveness of this passage.
Scott’s tale concerns Ingrid’s attempts to escape her mistreatment. In so doing, she finds a friend in Jade (in a wonderful enactment from Brigid Shine). She is a young rocker. From herein, Ingrid, whose parents died in a car crash, follows Jade and the group, JOANovArc. Such an act brings out the creative side in Ingrid. In turn, she begins to pursue formulating her own sonic compositions. This helps her to begin to obtain an internal strength. There are even flashes of trust. Yet, the conclusion suggests that this also helps reinforce another entirely different desire.
This narrative is certainly affecting. Scott, via his intelligent and meticulously paced scripting and introspective guidance of the project, treats both Ingrid and the sensitive subject matter at hand with the maturity and understanding it demands. Also, Ingrid’s gradual development throughout the exertion is believable. The same can be said of the dialogue and interactions. This is also accurate when considering the characterizations of those who share screen time with Scott’s central figure. What is just as striking is how Scott makes many of the emotive turns in the arrangement simultaneously elegiac and evermore stirring. This is via Simon Finley and Kaya-Herstad Carney’s terrific tunes.
Assisting matters is Ian Cash and Joao da Silva’s sharp cinematography. Andrew McKee’s editing is superb. The costume design from Danielle Cooper is similarly astounding. Contributions from the make-up and sound department fare just as well. Correspondingly, the previously undeclared performances are just as stalwart. For instance, Anu Hasan is excellent as Ms. Murray. Fabien Ara is incredible as Dion. Not to mention, Scott’s incorporation of flashbacks is assuredly haunting. This is especially true of the first fifty percent of the picture.
This all comes together to create a marvelously honed and meditative tour de force. Though many of the themes explored and plot points are comparable to his prior features, such as the brilliant My Lonely Me (2015), the episode never feels anything less than fresh. It’s also admirable how tightly related Scott’s works remain. Such a factor adds a consistency to his material. This is supplementary to their collective high-quality. Regardless, Scott continues to evolve as an artist. It is expressed in every frame of his latest labor. What Scott crafts in Is This Now is as challenging as it is memorable. The result is one of the best pictures of the year.
(Unrated). Contains adult content and profanity.