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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 11.28.16] thriller

Anna and Beth are good friends and they both happen to be actresses with young careers though Beth is getting a lot more attention and she's slowly becoming a recognizable star; she's done a bit of TV, been cast in a couple of movies and even appeared in a recent edition of Young Hollywood magazine. She's considering a leading role in a horror movie that could take her career to the next level but she's feeling conflicted about the opportunity. Anna hasn't been quite as lucky. She's almost out of money, hasn't worked in a little while and is desperately trying to jump start her career.

Most of this is revealed early on in Sophia Takal's sophomore effort Always Shine in which Beth and Anna go away on a weekend retreat to Big Sur. The trip is meant to give the friends an opportunity to re-connect after years of competition and animosity brought on by an extremely competitive working environment.

Always Shine is a great observational film about women coming to terms with themselves and their changing friendship but it's also a fascinating look at two extremely competitive actresses dealing with the fallout of an industry where looks are often coveted above talent and where women – even friends – are encouraged into competition which often yields unhealthy results. In the case of Beth and Anna, the pair slowly pick away at each other, both overtly and silently, to the point of madness and perhaps worse.

Lawrence Michael Levine's script is fantastic and the movie is brilliantly edited by Zach Clark into a fever pitch of a climax. There are also snippets dispersed throughout the movie that appear to foreshadow Always Shine's climax – or perhaps they're scenes from the actor's movies – it's difficult to tell and that's clearly part of the intent.

Impressive beyond the movie's technicality are the performances from Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald. Both actresses have had great success on television (Davis on "Halt and Catch Fire" and FirzGerald on "Masters of Sex") and here they're given the opportunity to step into leading roles and they're both great in their own right though I expect Takal's experience as an actress played a part in eliciting the performances.

Always Shine is intense stuff but by far the best aspects of the movie are the quibbles and double entendre moments between the actresses. They may have been friends to begin with but there's a real sense that the pair only continue to talk because they need each other as motivation and measuring sticks for their careers until the moment one of them goes too far.

A fantastic actor's showcase, Always Shine is also a great drama about friends trying to reconnect, a thriller about competition and what one woman is willing to do in order to get ahead not to mention a brilliant inside baseball look at the world of acting.

Always Shine is currently playing in San Francisco and New York and expands to more markets on December 2.

Recommended Release: Starry Eyes

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