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Hollywood Insider Fast Color Review, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Photo: ‘Fast Color’/Lionsgate

‘Fast Color’ might be the most introverted superhero film since ‘Unbreakable’. Similar to Shyamalan’s 2000 cult classic, the movie is more interested in exploring the psychology, faith, and morality of the characters who wield these powers, rather than the visual devastation or spectacle that those powers can create. But ‘Fast Color’ isn’t completely devoid of the visual extravaganza that normally accompanies our typical superhero fare, it just takes its sweet time getting to that point. So by the time the film is able to revel in all of its superheroic beauty, it’s as visually stunning as it is emotionally powerful. 

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Similar to ‘Unbreakable’, director and screenwriter Julia Hart also offers a new kind of mythology to support her story, but rather her mythology feels more mystical in nature; something that could’ve been told in ancient times instead of a modern narrative. At the same time, ‘Fast Color’ also has a very futuristic dystopian feel to it that, as with most of the movie, is subtler than your usual end of the world scenario. This is a society that feels as though it can take place in a couple of days instead of in the distant future, making its world seem a lot closer to ours while also implementing a dash of realism in one of the superhero genre’s most ambitious projects to date.

“If Something Is Broken, It Stays Broken”

In the film’s opening, an exhausted but tender voice, that sounds like it can belong to any of our mothers, ushers us into the movie with ominous narration that she can feel the planet dying. She lets us know that it’s been eight years since it last rained on Earth, there’s a shortage of food, and water has become the world’s most valuable commodity, with places like supermarkets or gas stations attaching gas-like prices to water, which is becoming too rare to be free. The woman lecturing us about Earth’s slow demise, Bo played by Lorraine Toussaint, doesn’t explicitly tell us how exactly the planet got to the point of no return, but she lets us know that the source of the cataclysm is the same as it usually is; man. 

After introducing us to an Earth that has seemingly reached its expiration date, Bo goes on a brief segue about Ruth, and wonders how she’s surviving in a world that’s so clearly has reached its expiration date while thinking out loud to herself that she wished that Ruth would’ve stayed. She believes that maybe she could’ve fixed Ruth, before quickly disregarding the idea because, to her, “If something is broken, it stays broken.” But you get the impression that Bo isn’t just referring to this mysterious Ruth person when she laments over what’s broken, she’s referencing the planet as well, and gives off the vibe that Earth has already surrendered to its fate and the damage done to it is irreparable.

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Bo gives us this brief history lesson before ‘Fast Color’ drops us off into this terrifying world and leaves us there to fend for ourselves. You can practically feel your lips getting dry seeing how parched and wilted the Earth’s become. Baths have become a luxury that can only be given out sparingly, dishes can only be cleaned using dry washcloths and a bit of elbow grease. The trip Hart takes us on is sometimes difficult to watch because although we might not know the particulars, we can imagine what led to the crippling effects of Bo’s world, if only because sometimes you’ll feel that we’re headed down that path in real life, with ‘Fast Color’ being a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in its own right.

By the time we meet Ruth, who’s brought to life by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, she’s already on the run. Initially, we don’t know what she’s on the run from, but we’re given the feeling that she’s been on the run for a while, with the thing she’s trying to elude the most being her past. We come to realize, however, that Ruth isn’t your typical runaway vagabond. Every once in a while Ruth suffers from massive seizures that literally rock the world as much as its most aggressive Earthquake, and it’s a disorder that she has no control over. After being on the run for so long, partly because of her powers and the unwanted attention they might’ve brought her, Ruth returns home to her mother Bo to try and remedy, not only her abilities but her relationship with her family. 

When she returns, not only do we learn that Ruth has a daughter, but both her mother and daughter possess powers as well; powers inherited from a mysterious lineage that saw all the women in Ruth’s family carry this mysterious ability. Although Bo and Ruth’s daughter, Lila, played by Saniyya Sidney, might also have powers, they don’t carry the same destructive force that Ruth does. On the contrary, both Bo and Lila have the ability to disassemble items down to their very items, until they’re nothing but dust, and reassemble them back together again. They also see flashes of the most beautiful colors whenever they use their powers, the colors themselves are always vibrant and radiant, they burst in the air and almost feel like living things themselves. 

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Ruth returns hoping that with her mother’s help, and even with the help of her daughter, she’ll be able to get her own powers under control enough to be able to see those colors again.  ‘Fast Color’ definitely slows down when Ruth reunites with her family, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily loses its momentum. Ruth’s healing process takes time, and that’s even assuming she can be healed at all, a process of which requires a lot of reflection and evaluation. The time spent with Ruth’s family is the heart of the film, and as such, it takes up the bulk of the narrative. ‘Fast Color’ takes its dear sweet time exploring this family dynamic, more interested in the family’s dysfunction, and how this power might have caused this dysfunction than it is in the family itself. It’s a pace that ends up rewarding the patient and serves to deepen our bond with Ruth’s family and the story they’re telling.

The Importance of Motherhood

‘Fast Color’ really highlights the importance of motherhood, sisterhood, and feminine strength. It’s only through Ruth’s mother, Bo, that she feels she has a chance of fixing her abilities in an extension of fixing herself. Ruth’s own role as a mother plays a significant part in her decisions and actions as well, as she’s driven by a natural paternal instinct to protect her daughter. This commentary on Motherhood might also extend beyond Ruth’s own family dynamic and extend to the Earth itself. Mother Nature is suffering due to mankind taking advantage of all its natural resources and not looking out for the planet’s best interest. Because of man’s negligence, the Earth is suffering a slow and painful death with most of its resources stripped away from it. 

Although I wouldn’t exactly call the film anti-male, given the themes of its narrative, it makes sense that the only thing capable of halting the Earth’s almost inevitable destruction is a feminine touch. Ruth’s own emotional and physical journey almost parallels the planet’s own tormented soul, to the point where you get the impression that if Ruth somehow finds a way to heal herself, it will somehow put the planet on the road back to recovery as well. 

Ruth, her family, and the origins of her powers also whisper a sort of biblical undertone embedded in the movie’s message. Their powers almost seem like a direct response to Mother Nature’s cry for help, in that from the beginning you can see the potential they have to save the world if used creatively. It’s the same potential that the government sees, which is why they continue to pursue Ruth throughout the movie with the type of fervor that they do, as she can literally be humanity’s last hope against extinction. 

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The same way Jesus is both God and the son of God put on Earth to sacrifice himself for man’s sins, Ruth feels like Mother Nature and the daughter of Mother Nature herself, here to repent for mankind’s tragic crimes against her. It’s an allusion that’s even further illustrated by the notion that there’s no source or explanation for the powers in Ruth’s lineage other than that it’s inherited through all the women in her family, further adding to the power’s mystery. It’s a meaning that can work in so many different ways and interpretations, further adding even more weight to an already innovative film.

‘Fast Color’ – Performances As Stunning As The Film’s Visuals

‘Fast Color’ is one of Mbatha Gugu-Raw’s finest performances. Ruth is a character that doesn’t like to say much in the beginning, even her expressions have a kind of emotional restraint that seems rehearsed, as if she’s determined not to reveal what she’s feeling even through her body language. At the same time, when the character calls for emotion, Gugu-Raw always delivers and makes sure that we feel every bit of emotion that’s been weighing down Ruth, as well as the audience by virtue of her performance. Gugu-Raw also doesn’t wear any makeup, which makes her performance feel raw and a bit more honest than other performances. Here, Gugu-Raw is truly stripped down to the bare essentials, all-natural and authentic, which helps sell both the character and this world she’s been born into.

Toussaint is fantastic as Bo, carrying the maternal wisdom and care that comes with the experience Bo has accumulated over the years. Toussaint embodies all of Bo’s nourishing qualities and balances it out with strict discipline and tough love when it’s needed. To complete the trio, Saniyya Sidney is a firecracker like Lila. You can see both Bo and Ruth’s influence in Sidney’s impressive performance, except she comes off as representing the best of both worlds. She’s able to channel a pearl of wisdom and maturity that’s far beyond her years, while at the same time still maintaining that naive innocence that someone her age is trying to preserve. It’s a delicate balance that not every child actor can pull off, and is a solid reason to watch the progression of Sidney’s career in the future.

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On a personal level, it’s both remarkable and commendable to see three black women given material of this caliber, elevating an already impressive script. I consider it the first black female superhero film, and although it didn’t quite shake the world the way Ruth literally shakes hers during her seizures, it definitely left a planet-sized impact on me after my viewing. It was refreshing to see three strong African American women portrayed with such dignity, elegance, and grace that’s still lacking a bit in Cinema. Despite Hollywood’s growing diversity, movies starring a majority African American female cast are still a bit rare, especially when it comes to dramas. ‘Fast Color’ furthers the diversity discussion by relegating male performers in the back while keeping the camera focused on our female leads, showcasing the power of feminine sisterhood in an African American context, both as part of the film’s narrative and a part of the movie’s message. 

‘Fast Color’ is a powerful film that, much like Ruth and her family, flew under the radar when it first came out back in 2019. Given the chaos that took place in 2020, it almost felt prophetic while watching it, as a lot of its commentary felt a little too relevant to the stamp that Covid left on society during the peak of the pandemic, when things like toilet paper were worth fighting over and shelves were nearly empty. It’s a small superhero origin film that got lost in the shuffle of other larger superhero blockbusters, but there’s a glimmer of hope that the film’s voice will be heard now that the world has quieted down a bit. 

‘Fast Color’ can be caught on Hulu. A television series based on the film and produced by Viola Davis is currently in the works.

Cast – Gugu Mbatha-Raw,  Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney

Directed by: Julia Hart | Written by: Jordan Horowitz, Julia Hart

Produced by: Jordan Horowitz, Mickey Lidell, Pete Shilaimon

By Tony Stallings

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