The first time feature from Erin Vassilopoulos, Lynchian noir Superior makes its UK premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. Penned with co-writer Alessandra Mesa, Vassilopoulos’s feature impresses thanks to its production design that transports us to its 1987 setting yet Superior’s narrative treats its outlandish subject matter in far too straight-laced and static a manner, lacking in a particular sense of dynamism and oomph.
Superior centres on aspiring rock star Marian (Alessandra Mesa) on the run from her abusive boyfriend. She later turns up at her twin sister Vivian’s (Ani Mesa) home – despite not seeing her for six years. Vivian is a stay at home wife, trying to get pregnant with her husband Michael (Jake Hoffman); a very different lifestyle to that of her twin sister. After reforming their bond, the sisters agree to take on each other’s identity to get a sense of the choices they each have made in life.
Mia Cioffi Henry’s stylish cinematography transports us the mundane domesticity of suburban America at the tail end of the eighties. The visual commitment on display here features a range of kitsch pastels, complimented in production design from Maite Perez-Nievas. Perez-Nievas crafts what feels like an authentic portrait of suburban Americana in the visually rich craftsmanship delving into eighties furniture and design palettes. Praise should also go to Allison Pearce’s convincing costume design which aids Superior in conjuring a stylish take on the eighties middle-class lifestyle that surrounds our protagonists.
Vassilopoulos and Mesa’s narrative attempts to centre itself as a sort of grounded Lynchian noir – yet leans too heavily on the mundane routines of our protagonist’s lives. With the identity switch angle, Superior has a wealth of potential to take this tale of the trapped domesticated wife switching with the on-the-run rock singer, yet there is a sense of tension, whimsy and stakes that feel lacking in the narrative. Much of Superior centres on extended moments of the characters simply not taking part in anything particularly interesting such as a large subplot about Vivian (in the guise of Marian) working at a local ice cream shack; or Marian dodging the advances of Vivian’s husband Michael, who has been duped by their identity switch. It’s all a little ordinary and lacking the shock and awe that the narrative could revel in.
Superior is presented in a generally stoic fashion and fans of kitsch satires of American domesticity such as John Waters’ Polyester or either adaptation of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives will know that there is a wealth of potential fun to be had in these settings. Even darker takes on the suburban experience such as Blue Velvet or Todd Haynes’ Safe show that the setting can be interpreted in quite an unsettling manner. Superior avoids camp, whilst also never fully commits to the darkness – instead it all feels a little plain and grounded.
The slight elements of darkness that slowly creep through Superior can be moderately effective. The opening scene is an assertive one capturing Marian escaping from her abusive boyfriend Robert (Pico Alexander) in a tense turn of events. Robert closing in on Marian as the narrative progresses does add a slight sense of tension, but much of this is diluted in the mundane small-city theatrics at the heart of Superior.
There’s an admirable visual style and personality to Superior thanks to its production design, cinematography and costuming, it’s just a pity that in terms of narrative, this is a sluggish affair.