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"Bristol Fashion" stretches itself far too thin, but keeps things real throughout.
The movie Bristol Fashion is a pretty lukewarm drama, but there is one scene that I believe leaves a profound mark. A young woman named Christina appears for a job interview at a New York City grocery store. It’s a cramped office, and the manager is a grumpy and impatient guy. Once the position of product stocker is offered, the manager requests a photo I.D. Christina hesitates before handing it over. “This says ‘Christopher’” he says confusingly. A moment or two later, he gets the situation without wanting to hear much else. Christina is transgender. From here, the manager quickly scurries about to finish the meeting and is even thwarted by a slow scanner/printer, making for an awkward silence. He shakes her hand, and that’s that. Bristol Fashion may not be perfect, but it’s in these scenes that great vulnerabilities are found, and a real story presents itself beyond the surface plot - or what little of it there is.
Christina is played by Lea Nayeli, who exudes dominating confidence and sad strength, despite and in spite of what is a disappointing script. She’s at the center of this film, and rightfully so. None of what works would work without her interpretation of Christina’s personality, which is a combination of toughness, snappiness, and friendly gestures. Nayeli presents this Christina as someone whose identity is first and foremost a lost person searching for herself. She’s trans, but that’s only an “issue” for a few jerks around her. She knows what she wants as her next move in life, but to get there she has to confront a few obstacles, namely those of a few insecure men.
Bristol Fashion stretches itself incredibly thin on story, dragging things out so much that some scenes feel like a b-roll of extended cuts, like one where characters take some mushrooms and trip for a long time. Some threads go nowhere, others only exist as fluff, and the movie suffers as a result. Setups without payoff and payoffs unearned.
Still, there are sparks that come from its trio of leading actors. The other two, Raul Perez and Richie Di Frisco, play Esteban and Cadillac respectively, and make the story beneath the story very interesting. Esteban is the boatyard’s handyman and is lovesick for Christina. Cadillac is a friend of hers, a drug dealer, and an occasional lover. He’s also a wannabe actor, who lands a part in a local dinner theater production. “It’s a start,” he exclaims proudly, while Christina smirks. Esteban meanwhile is awfully cordial and forward about his feelings but has lofty and unrealistic expectations for a relationship that’s not going to happen.
Both men could be considered, in some ways, as losers of sorts - man-babies that seek comfort and assurance from anyone in their lives. However, why must that come from Christina? It’s not on her to make every man feel good about themselves, and her situation certainly shouldn’t mean an obligation on her part to comply. This is Bristol Fashion’s singular and best possible tale. Raul Perez and Richie Di Frisco supplement Lea Nayeli so well, that the film’s casting choices feel serendipitous. There’s chemistry throughout and in between the characters, making everything a pleasure to watch - even when things go on too long.
Make some scenes tighter and clearer, and Bristol Fashion would be a stellar sure thing of indie cinema. While the film treads water here and there, it does float and thrive from its triple-threat acting. In that way, I suppose the movie is a sure thing. It’s funny how things work out. 2.5/5
Bristol Fashion is now available for rent and purchase on-demand and will be screening soon as part of the Indie Discovery LA Film Series.
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