The Brilliantly Performed ‘Fancy Dance’ Has a Few Too Many Steps | Exclaim!

Fancy Dance

Every year film festivals release a certain type of film — usually a drama starring an actor riding a wave of positive buzz (or established and trying to make a comeback), and they aim to tell a socially conscious and perhaps underseen story. These are, to use the vernacular, awards bait. These films tend to walk a fine line between schmaltzy and poignant, between cloyingly sweet and cynically dark, and more than one wrong step in either direction can result in disaster.

Consider Erica Tremblay‘s new feature, Fancy Dance, one of these films. Having premiered at Sundance last year, the film stars Lily Gladstone — fresh off her multi-award-winning appearance in Killers of the Flower Moon and the well-received miniseries Under the Bridge — as Jax, a Seneca-Cayuga woman living on a reservation in Oklahoma. Jax has been caring for her niece, Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson), for the past several weeks since Roki’s mother, Jax’s sister Tawi, went missing.

They don’t live in squalor, but certainly in poverty. Jax teaches Roki how to live off the land, and also how to shoplift and boost cars. It would be tempting to call these the actions of a fuckup, but in reality, they’re the actions of the desperate. There are precious few jobs, and people have to live.