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Lily | Tribeca Review

Lily From 5 to 7: Creed’s Debut a Quietly Observed Character Study

Matt Creed Lily PosterIt’s spare design and robust female lead character already has Matt Creed’s directorial debut, Lily, drawing favorable comparison to French New Wave auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard. However, if this melancholy rendering of one woman’s rendezvous with terminal illness recalls the mindset of that classic period of film history, its most common ancestor would be Agnes Varda’s 1962 film, Cleo From 5 to 7, where a young chanteuse nervously wanders the city streets waiting for test results that will determine whether or not she has cancer. Here Matt Creed, co-writing with actress Amy Grantham from a story developed from her own experiences with breast cancer, opts for the intriguing process of what happens after one recovers and the growth that is accompanied with reintegration into normal routine. Its examinations, while not brazenly profound, are innately moving and compelling, and the film features a subtle, beautifully rendered lead performance.

Nearing the end of radiation therapy as the result of a breast cancer diagnosis, Lily (Amy Grantham) must begin to reevaluate her life circumstances and decide what she wants to do next. A visual artist that was working on a project where she taped recordings of various street artists and other bohemian individuals on the streets of New York, she must now find work to pay off her mounting debt that has accumulated. Also, the discovery of her genetically inherited BRCA2 mutation means that the threat of ovarian cancer remains high, and she is urged to notify family members of their own high risk, which means Lily has to consider speaking with the father she’s been estranged from for three years. While she’s stopped chemotherapy and her hair has grown back a bit, Lily still insists on wearing a noticeable wig that nearly drowns her small face and donning an uncomplimentary wardrobe, as if she’s trying to vanish into the background. She shares life with her much older boyfriend, Aaron (Simon Chaput), who has two preadolescent boys, but they seem casually indifferent to one another. Her best friend (Lindsay Burdge) attempts to draw Lily out of her protective shell, and slowly she seems to begin to decide some big changes may be necessary.

A scenario that could have been relayed dramatically is instead quietly revealed through a series of closely observed interactions. As Lily, Grantham forces us to rely on her facial expressions or tone of voice to determine what she may be feeling. We’re treated to a teary breakdown once (and minor, at that),where, upset, she retreats privately to her bedroom to cry, unseen by her boyfriend and his children. In an expertly played scene, Lily, confronted by a downstairs neighbor about her noisy tap dancing, assures that desisting her newfound pleasure is no problem at all, but her dismayed expression tells a different story. She takes to the sidewalks to explore this new fascination, only to be interrupted by curious passersby.

Grantham exudes a steely resilience, sometimes even reminiscent of Julie Delpy at moments where frustration and anger break through her calm demeanor. Lost long in a world she thought she’d soon leave, it seems her senses are finally restored with her renewed interests and vigor. A snappy vintage pop soundtrack accompanies Lily as she wanders the New York Streets, thumbing through records and books at thrift shops. A complicated reunion with her father manages to be moving in its frustratingly realistic exploration of distant, uncaring familial relationships, soon followed by its quietly gliding, contemplative final frames. Lily is an unromaticized look at the hardest part of seriously contemplating death, and that’s being forced to go on with life.

Reviewed on April 26th at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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