Gold Star (2016)
Written and directed by Victoria Negri
Produced by Effie Fradelos, Katie Maguire, Jose Del Carmen Martinez, Victoria Negri, Carlos Oller, Zachary Silverstein, Ellyn Vander Wyden, Greg White
Edited by Chris Steele-Nicholson
Cinematography by Saro Varjabedian
Music by Ben Levin
In the opening shot of Gold Star we see a young woman running, but we’re not sure why. Her breathing is labored and the camera captures her only from the neck up, so we’re immediately asking questions: Is she exercising? Evading someone? Some thing?
We soon learn that this runner is Vicki (Victoria Negri), a young woman who dropped out of music school and now works at a gym. Vicki gets a call from her mom (Catherine Curtin), who’s at the hospital caring for Vicki’s father Carmine (Robert Vaughn, in his final film performance), who has just suffered a stroke at age 90. Vicki, wearing a t-shirt covered with images of daisies, arrives at the hospital looking even younger than her age, so much so that we could be forgiven for thinking Carmine is her grandfather rather than her father.
Vicki is at a point in her life where she’s trying to discover herself. Her job at the gym is probably not going to turn into a career and while her current boyfriend Trevor (Max Rhyser) seems nice, we’re not sure if this is going to turn into something long-term. Vicki clearly loves her father, but does her reluctance to be his caregiver stem from his constant needs and how they might affect her own freedom, or from the fact that he was a respected music teacher who may be disappointed with her life choices? Maybe a little of both…
When Vicki meets a young man named Chris (Jacob Heimer), she’s somewhat attracted to him, but also intimidated at the level of care and compassion he shows for others, particularly the elderly, a quality she does not yet possess. During their second meeting, Chris wants to take Vicki for a walk in a wooded area. Halfway joking, she tells him “If you murder me, don’t dump me in the woods naked. I deserve better.”
In a way, Gold Star is all about what we deserve in life, what life gives us, and how we respond to it. Does Vicki deserve to be her father’s caregiver when her adult life is practically just beginning? What does a man of Carmine’s years deserve? Who actually determines what we really deserve?
Gold Star is a very personal film for Negri, who also cared for her elderly father when she was in her mid-twenties. Negri avoids the types of clichés you might encounter in lesser films and instead delivers a thoughtful, layered story as well as a thoughtful, layered performance as Vicki. The film is loaded with many wonderful scenes that tell us so much about character without having to spell things out for us. In one such scene, Vicki sits alone at her father’s piano, frustrated that she can’t perform the piece she’s attempting to play. Not only is she seated at his piano, she’s also surrounded by his sheet music and art, all the things that are a part of who he is. In a brief but brilliant moment, Vicki looks through her father’s abandoned glasses, unable to see through the smudges, implying that she can’t yet understand his perspective and perhaps that she can’t follow his path.
That scene, like the small island behind Carmine’s coastal property, also represents things and people that are just out of reach, which resonates powerfully with the reality of aging: as we grow older, so many of the things we could once do easily are soon beyond our grasp. This is a sobering realization for an elderly person and no less so for a young woman with decades ahead of her to prepare for it. As a director, Negri shows an enormous amount of empathy, self-examination and wisdom in the choices she makes for this, her first feature. The film also shows an enormous amount of talent and dedication. Gold Star is a film you’ll want to see and immediately tell others about it. The film will be released in theaters and available at Amazon starting November 10. You can find out more information about screenings at the Gold Star website.
Many thanks to the filmmakers for the opportunity to review this screener. Please visit the Gold Star website for the latest news on seeing the film in your area or on Amazon. Also thanks to Raquel at Out of the Past: A Classic Movie Blog for introducing me to the film.
Photos: Gold Star website