Julia Hart’s ‘Fast Color’ is a beautiful take on a superheroic family

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There are no earth-shattering battles between good and evil in Fast Color, the new science-fiction “superhero” drama from director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens), but there are tremendous struggles. In an near-future American desert landscape slowly shifting towards economic and ecological catastrophe due to a decade-long drought, a young African-American woman named Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heads to her home town. She’s returning after years on the road, after an unspecified drug addiction nearly killed her, and her odd abilities — which manifest initially as earthquakes — have made her a person of interest for the government.

More than that, she wants to make amends with her mother (the brilliant Lorraine Toussaint) and her adolescent daughter (Saniyya Sidney) whom she hasn’t seen in years, all of whom have similar powers that they can fully control. So, the film follows Ruth attempting to reconnect and to understand the peculiar reasons behind why her abilities don’t work as well as theirs, and her presence will attract the attention of a government agent (Christopher Denham) and the local sheriff (David Strathairn).

Hart’s got a strong grasp on her characters and her camera, and there are intoxicating moments through peppered throughout — a slow tracking shot running across the rooms of Ruth’s childhood home, Toussaint’s “parlor trick” in which she dissolves a lit cigarette into a colorful constellation of particles that dance in the palm of her hand — and all this helps to alleviate some of the film’s pacing problems. It is too long and a little bit more satisfied with its sluggish movement than it should be, but I don’t know if those moments would have their same power if they were presented to us in a quicker fashion.

Regardless, Mbatha-Raw is finally given a science-fiction movie worthy of her this year (unlike The Cloverfield Paradox or A Wrinkle in Time, both of which had no idea what to do with her) that gives her a chance to really embody her character. The generational struggles between the three women at the film’s center are fascinating, and the lineage that lies behind their abilities — and how they are used — offers a potent metaphor. Fast Color may not be able to beat Black Panther at the box office, but it nearly rivals it in heart and revolutionary power.

‘Fast Color’ will hit theaters sometime in 2018. Follow Nick Johnston on his adventures at SXSW 2018 @onlysaysficus. Featured photo credit: Jacob Yakob, via SXSW. All rights reserved.