Following up his 2015 sexual exploratoration story Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, Chicago-based writer-director Stephen Cone brings us Princess Cyd. It’s another version of the coming-of-age tale, this time from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl named Cyd (Jessie Pinnick), who experienced a traumatic family event nine years earlier that left her motherless and without a guiding force in her formative years. Cyd comes to Chicago from North Carolina to live for a few weeks with her late mother’s sister, Miranda (Rebecca Spence), a well-known author who seems to write stories that combine reality-based situations with a peppering of spirituality and the search for true joy.
The two get off to a rocky start, Cyd alternating between seeming to be wise beyond her years and then almost too immature for Miranda to relate to her on any level. Cyd declares that she isn’t really a reader and almost immediately begins asking Miranda about her sex life, which puts Miranda a bit on edge. But eventually, the two find common ground as they start to explore their commonalities. Cyd meets some of her aunt’s good friends, including the recent single Anthony (James Vincent Meredith), and even meets new friends while exploring the neighborhood while jogging, including Katie (Malic White). Cyd’s hormones seem to get switched on in Chicago, and she starts exploring her sexuality with Katie, as well as a boy named Ridley (Matthew Quattrocki), the son of another friend of Miranda.
Princess Cyd leads up to a monthly gathering at Miranda’s house, during which she invites a sizable group of her artistically inclined friends to talk, drink, share stories (real and fictional), and read from their favorite authors and poets. And it becomes clear that Cyd feels comfortable to explore in this environment because Miranda has built an inclusive nest for her where few things are off limits and experimenting is encouraged and supported. Having this sexually charged environment even makes Miranda begin to rethink her five-year drought in the bedroom (partly by choice, partly due to a lack of options).
At its core, Princess Cyd is a film about our young heroine’s first taste of the freedoms and perils of adult living, a subject Cone has explored quite convincingly in previous works. I’m guessing most who watch this film will think that Cyd simply moving in with her aunt could be a much healthier setting for the girl’s upbringing, but that would defeat the purpose of the movie. Cyd must take the lessons learned in Chicago back home with her and see if her life improves at all, or at least makes a bit more sense. And because filmmaker Cone doesn’t provide easy solutions to his characters’ problems, the film feels all the more authentic and vital.
What begins as a breezy, drifting character study subtly transforms into an emotional puzzle in which the answers to some questions come into focus, while others become fuzzier. Welcome to life.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Producers Grace Hahn and actors Rebecca Spence and Malic White are scheduled to appear for an audience discussion on Friday, November 3 at 8:15pm; Hahn and producer Madison Ginsberg will be on hand Saturday, November 4 at 5:15pm; and director Stephen Cone will attend Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9, at 8:15pm on both nights.