Where Takal and writer Lawrence Michael Levine most succeed is in showing how both approaches leave much to be desired. Beth has the trappings of public success, with the requisite magazine articles and a steady, comfortable income, but she’s not respected as an actress, even by her own boyfriend. Anna has her dignity but little else. She works in student productions and is doing better work, but she’s lonely, has serious money troubles, and her holier-than-thou attitude means Beth is one of her only friends. Anna’s the talent that needs to be seen, passionately brought to life by Davis, but getting a job is not only about talent. She’s also vulnerable to black pits of resentment, which comes into play once the two women arrive at their vacation destination of an isolated cabin in the woods.
As the faults in Always Shine continue to fester, Takal engages in twistier and more disorienting visual storytelling that takes away from the exceptional work that Davis and Fitzgerald are putting in. Both actresses are given roles with high degrees of difficulty. Davis has to convince the viewer that Beth is so talented that her abrasiveness is worth it, while Fitzgerald has to play a self-consciously mediocre actor, something that she is decidedly not. When Always Shine is a push-and-pull duet between the two of them, it is keeping true to its title. The hyper-edited psychological thriller the film turns into is less impressive. Takal makes 80% of a great film about misguided anger and women not standing up for each other. The remainder detracts from the complex package. B