(The 2022 SXSW Film Festival runs March 11-20 in glorious Austin, Texas. Check out Bears Rebecca Fonté’s movie review of Sissy. Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
Cecilia (Aisha Dee) is successful and likable, and she deserves her success. At least that’s what she tells herself during the daily meditations she often films and posts on Instagram where, at 200,000 followers, she can legitimately be called an influencer. Cecilia has crafted a brand around a delicate personality that she has built up like a wall around her past self. She’s kept the flashbacks at bay until a chance meeting with her elementary school best friend Emma (Hannah Barlow) forces them to the top of her mind. Emma and Cecilia were “best friends forever,” as their necklaces said, but quickly after entering middle school, the other half of Emma’s necklace was taken by Alex (Emily De Margheriti), the archetypical mean girl, who takes Cecilia’s nickname of Sissy and turns it into a weapon.
When Emma asks Cecilia to her engagement party, and Cecilia remembers why they were such good friends, she ignores the little voice of distress that warns her not to reopen her life to past injuries. However, when an invitation to Emma’s hen party weekend arrives at adult Alex’s mini mansion, and Alex refuses to accept her old nemesis’ rebrand, referring to her as Sissy once again, Cecilia finds herself triggered by her old memories.
Sissy is a story as much about the way we remember the past as the way we are affected by the past. The audience is drawn into Cecilia as our hero before halfway through the film we start to realize she may be an unreliable historian at best. The scar across Alex’s face hints at the real reason Sissy and Emma lost their best friends forever standing and a time capsule full of artifacts cannot tell the entirety of a friendship.
Anchored by a terrific performance from Aisha Dee, who I’ve loved since her girl power performance on Freeform’s The Bold Type, Sissy pulls a couple over on the audience. In addition to the bait and switch on the protagonist, there is also how we feel about Emma’s abandonment of her friend, the aching suspicion that she’s been brought here under false pretenses, the friends who have no business being on either side of the disagreement flip flopping back and forth, and the ever crippling shadow of social fame and jealousy which seems to drive so many of the decisions of Emma’s generation. What seems to be a simple cabin in the woods-–even giant mini mansion cabin–story is the background for several unexpected evaluations. Would Emma have been so quick to invite Cecilia back into her life if she didn’t have 200,000 followers? Is your social respect more important than your one-on-one personal relationships? And what truly lasts, the facts or the story you tell?
Sure, Sissy spirals into a bit of chance circumstance ridiculousness, but, much like life, every end result is triggered by a very small decision, often made in haste without any thought to the consequences. By the end of the film the audience is left unsure how they feel about anyone, except maybe Emma, who comes off as squeaky clean as possible, which seems to be her lot in life. For some people, the shit just doesn’t stick to them, even if they leave a trail of bodies in their wake. So maybe in the end Emma gets what she deserves? Maybe Sissy gets the revenge she deserves? Maybe Alex gets the comeuppance she deserves. or maybe, like life, Sissy just dishes out losses and victories willy nilly and leaves us to struggle through any meaning or turn to meditation for strength.
The only thing that didn’t quite work for me in the film is the complete racial apathy of the story. By casting a person of color as Cecilia and having Emma marry another person of color, the film sets up a potential minefield of relationships but feels completely lacking in any investigation of how those relationships might be affected by race. Especially in Australia where their history is steeped in as much institutional racism as America, with the added colonialism of whites versus original inhabitants, Sissy‘s decision to avoid the topic altogether seems misguided, or at least unrealized. Does some of the jealousy that the other millennials feel at Cecilia’s success have anything to do with the color of her skin? Maybe with neither of the writer directors being a people of color they felt it was not an area they could tread, but ignoring it seems like a choice made out of fear or intentional ignorance than one to serve the story.
Despite that one criticism, Sissy is a fun ride that lets out the vengeful spirit of middle school inside all of us. It’s full of laughs and quick twists and just enough commentary for a solid conversation afterwards, or a hasty turn to Instagram to check our feed.
Sissy world premiered at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival.
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)
SXSW 2022; Kane Senes and Hannah Barlow; Sissy movie review;