Pretty Red Dress | Fresh Takes
Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.
Alex, Sofia, Stella and Shagnick
08 Jun 23
Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas.
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Here's some Fresh Takes on PRETTY RED DRESS, a story about how one dress changes everything for a family in Dionne Edwards' spirited debut, which investigates Black masculinity and family structures with warmth and sensitivity.
If you haven't seen it yet, book your tickets here.
Alex, 23.Alex is a London based film student. Her love for movies is apparent in her taste in many genres, from rom coms to thrillers, and she relishes the feeling of satisfaction that comes with a well-executed and satisfying ending.
Dionne Edwards dared to be different with her directorial debut: so distinctively British in essence, and with a strong sense of proud Black identity, Edwards' movie skillfully tells us a story in a way that has never been done before. It's a pleasure to watch a debut filmmaker confidently experimenting with a part musical and part drama, telling the captivating tale of a newly freed convict who becomes captivated by his partner's Pretty Red Dress.
Pretty Red Dress fearlessly confronts the macho culture existing within the Black male community, which renders the mere concept of cross-dressing inconceivable. However, she also reveals it within the framework of people with proud lives that have encountered setbacks. We see a glamorous, sexy mother employed as a supermarket cashier, whose aspirations of starring in a West End musical are unexpectedly rekindled, and witness a father who once dealt drugs striving to turn his life around after being released from prison, exploring a secret passion for cross-dressing.
Edwards could have just said that Travis wants to wear his partner's clothes because he's gay—after all, how could a straight man possibly be interested in cross-dressing? Thankfully, Edwards goes beyond seeking convenient explanations; Travis is not gay, he's infatuated with Candice. As his daughter Kenisha observes, he's just 'a bit off-key' – and Kenisha showing more sensitivity and understanding than anyone else speaks volumes about how younger generations are more accepting of gender expression.
Sofia, 25Sofia is a London based film student from Costa Rica. Her interests range from animated emotional films to thrilling dramas and satirical comedies. She is always open to watching films from new regions, or directors that she has never discovered before.
Director Dionne Edwards' debut feature introduces us to Travis, a man who has just left prison to rejoin his wife and teenage daughter's life in Brixton. This film explores and conquers a range of topics, from sexuality to gender expression, masculinity, and heteronormative family values.
The story follows each character in the household as they fight their own internal battle, which they power through to eventually become their authentic selves. At first, it seems like these journeys will take everyone on different paths, widening the gap between them. However, once their secrets are out and they finally start to see each other for who they truly are, they are able to establish a new sense of connection and belonging within their family unit.
The story is energetically sparked by Tina Turner's greatest hits, performed by X Factor winner Alexandra Burke in the role of Candice. Candice, the mom, is an aspirational singer who dreams of performing on stage. The music vignettes are as enthralling as the plot itself.
The narrative presents a strong yet tender story that is as gripping as it is entertaining.
Pretty Red Dress is a film that will not only keep you wondering what will happen next, but it will get you laughing at the most unexpected of times.
The main performances, particularly father and daughter duo Travis and Kenisha (played by Natey Jones and Temilola Olatunbosun respectively), are nuanced and heartfelt. As Travis and Kenisha put it in the film, maybe we are all a little 'off key' – that's why I believe that audiences will be able to greatly relate to this film.
Stella Jordan, 23.
Stella is currently living in Brighton and is writing her second short film.
Director Dionne Edwards unpacks socio-political stereotypes around the Black British community in Pretty Red Dress, using the cliche saying 'Don't judge a book by its cover' as a tool to surprise and engage the audience from the get-go.
Pretty Red Dress explores the stigma of queer culture within the Black community, and Edwards unravels the complexity of culture, sensuality and identity really well. Her work focuses on relationships within Black communities and deals with hard-hitting content in a compassionate way. The cinematography, mainly handheld, makes us feel on edge throughout the film, reminding me of Shane Meadows' This Is England.
Pretty Red Dress has a brilliant cast, and the chemistry between Travis and Candice is undeniable and feeds into the complexity of the story. Edwards creates an especially compassionate feeling towards Travis, as we go on a journey with him throughout the film and witness the risks and stakes unravel. Alexandra Burke steals the film with her boldness as Candice, with the untimely death of Tina Turner, whose music she performs, adding even more impact to her character.
The soundtrack deconstructs the historical context of Black music; the liberation, emotion and sense of connection reveals the backstory of these characters. Edwards has created a coming-of-age drama about self-discovery and desire within a Black family that we haven't seen on our screens before – it's a refreshing and much-needed film. Pretty Red Dress makes you reflect on the importance of educating all communities about stigmatisation and acceptance of others – it's a film that's relatable for everyone.
Shagnick Bhattacharya, 21.
Nick is a postgraduate student (and an aspiring professor) of history based in Exeter who is passionate about anything that involves the labour of the mind and in trying to understand the world better. In every movie he tries to find an intellectual conversation behind the lines in how they are products of the society we live in and how it is balanced/distorted/idealised by the people who make and watch them.
You can find more of his writing here.
Dionne Edwards's Pretty Red Dress is a brilliant story exploring sexuality and gender fluidity and the conflict it creates in an environment where the stigma of 'not acting like a man' threatens to marginalise men who don't follow the conservative societal norms dictating 'manliness'.
The story highlights the struggle of a heterosexual man freshly out of prison and his desire to "dress pretty" which makes his loved ones push him away as he becomes an object of ridicule for others.
The story does revolve around a 'pretty red dress' that the protagonist buys for his girlfriend, a struggling singer, and how he himself takes a fancy to it and the consequences this has. However, while the dress takes centre stage, every character has their own engaging, multi-dimensional story arc which makes the story feel so real and enables us to empathise and connect with these characters. All subplots are beautifully woven together and nothing in the movie feels detached from the core issue it deals with.
The story ends with a dramatic, emotional conclusion where all the different subplots collide and we get an ending which truly feels wholesome and liberating for the protagonist. But what makes the experience even better is the outstanding cinematography, screenplay, editing and the background score and music – all of which gives the film a uniquely beautiful rhythm and style.
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