Fancy Dance

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Erica Tremblay strikes an affecting and empathetic first film with “Fancy Dance,” which underscores the existential plight of the Native American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The story is focused, suspenseful and authentic. It is a solid if quiet story further boosted by fine understated performances.

The wayward Jax (Lily Gladstone) is in charge of her young niece Roki (Isabel DeRoy-Olson) by default. Mom is informally classified as a missing person. Jax is experiencing considerable difficulty making headway in her sister’s case, her whereabouts a mystery.

Regardless of this very upsetting circumstance, Jax tells Roki that her mother will attend the annual powwow to perform a dance.

Events are further complicated by Roki’s white grandparents Frank and Nancy (Shea Whigham and Audrey Wasilewski) seeking guardianship of the 14-year-old.

The film shifts from a family drama to a kind of road movie as Jax is bound and determined to travel several hours to reach the powwow.

Jax is forced to venture into the underbelly of her Cayuga reservation community to find her sister.

Each day Jax and Roki drive by car. With the police, grandparents and drug dealers all looking at the pair with suspicion. No town is safe. This is where the film shines as a slow burn thriller. It also highlights the Native American existence as the community is often thought of as inferior, damaged, and insignificant compared to the white West. This is one of a handful of mainstream films to put a Native American community front and center with heart and delicacy.

While the noir flavor of the film drifts into poignant symbolism, this is a fine push and pull drama with passion and energy, highlighting a lyrical and secret side of life that may be unknown to many.

As in the best of cinematic mysteries, there are no absolute villains here and everyone has a secret.

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