Review: Presenting Princess Shaw
Very little in this world is good and true. Human interaction usually comes with friction, angst and strife. The internet magnifies these qualities, as distance and anonymity obscures humanity. So to see a story unfold in such a pure way is refreshing. To see people overcome such obvious differences in the pursuit of art is uplifting. The movie doesn't blaze any new trails from a filmmaking standpoint, and its story is fairly simplistic, but there is something so wholesome about it that I can't help but be happy it exists.
Samantha Montgomery cares for the elderly in a nursing home as her day job. In her spare time, she sings, performing at open mics and uploading videos to YouTube. Her New Orleans environment provides a backdrop of poverty and her upbringing was fraught with sexual abuse.
Enigmatic producer Kutiman operates from Israel in relative anonymity. Lately, he has taken to creating well-produced pieces of music from bits and pieces of music that people have uploaded to YouTube. The movie centers on him doing this with a piece of Samantha Montgomery's (a/k/a Princess Shaw's) music. He supposedly (more on this later) did his work without her knowledge and then surprises her with it as the film's climax.
Much of the screen-time is occupied by following Princess Shaw around as she deals with her daily issues--not having money to pay her electricity bill, moving from place to place and performing to empty rooms. The film's strongest moments came in contemplating how lonely performing arts can be. If your work is under-appreciated, it can be an isolating and humbling experience. Her spirit, however, shined through. It was hard not to root for things to turn around for her given the way she just continued to upload videos and continued to sing her heart out. So that covers the good, but what about the true?
If I take a step back, however, and look for the sobering truth about the narrative, there is something that borders on exploitative lurking in the background. I am not sure whether it is exploitative of Princess Shaw, the audience, or both, but the 'realness' feels feigned at times. What does Princess Shaw think these cameras are following her around for? What did she know about what was happening with her music? Was choosing her videos to work with a genuinely organic happening or is there more orchestration than we are being led to believe?
The magic of the film is in this seemingly random connection and in this person having an interesting background to evoke sympathy. If that is all truly happenstance, then kudos to everyone involved. It feels, however, like they probably researched her story before deciding that she was the right subject for the film. From her race to her background, none of it feels like it just happens to be so. It also feels like they must have told her something about why they wanted to film her and what the ultimate goal was. These topics go unaddressed in an effort to preserve the fairytale, but it makes me want to question how authentic this whole thing is. There is a difference between being in Wonderland and being on an amusement park ride. I can enjoy either fairly easily; I just want to know which I am on.
The film is a beautiful illustration of what connection can look like in the digital age. Much of the content started in the dreaded vertical phone format, but the filmmakers were able to overcome this in spots, while still leaving that internet essence. If you can forgive some of the contrivances highlighted here, you will enjoy this. At bottom, it is a digital Cinderella story borne out of (hopefully) genuine connection.
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