Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sonejuhi Sinha
Screenwriter: Sonejuhi Sinha, Charlotte Rabate
Cast: Geetanjali Thapa, Olivia DeJonge, Cynthia Nixon, Robert Aramayo, Samrat Chakrabarti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/20
Opens: April 27, 2020
Riz (Geetanjali Thapa) is an immigrant whom Trump would like to put in the gallery during his delivery of the State of the Union message, not as his hero (Rush Limbaugh is more his type) but representing the threat that immigrants supposedly pose to our country. Riz, a petty thief who runs out of her native India before she becomes a hardened criminal, comes to the U.S. to pursue the American dream. Though wanting to follow the rules at first, she realizes that a newcomer to our shores has to do a lot more than serve as a chambermaid in the Poughkeepsie, New York motel owned by Una (Cynthia Nixon). Though she starts out an immigrant that the American people with good, progressive souls insist are a treasure, she falls into felonious violence after meeting Dallas (Olivia DeJonge), the sleazy roommate that Una makes her share her room as though she would ever have a “no vacancy” sign on the grounds outside.
The story’s setup is intriguing. Put two people together who appear with opposite personalities—Dallas, a blond who works on narcotic sales partnered with Una’s son Jimmy (Robert Aramayo—who could play Dr. Oz should a doc be considered; and Riz, a dark-haired woman about the same age who Dallas at first thinks is “a Mexican or something,”a relatively quiet gal learning the ropes from someone with considerable knowledge of the drug trade and with a sexual partner.
Strangely it is Riz, not Dallas, who takes the initiative early on by stealing a brick of coke from motel guest Sal Samrat Chakrabarti), though not until Sal offers her compatriot money if she would let him see herself “with a towel around her.” He accuses Una, though everyone knows that the first person who gets accusations is the room’s maid. When he rightly suspects Riz and Dallas he launches a spiral of violence that will motivate the two to leave town fast.
Everyone in the movie is flawed. Una, an immigrant herself, shreds Riz’s passport as though she were running a den of prostitution, though she had insisted that her new maid forget about making money with sex. Riz, who calls home from a public phone, lies about how she is enjoying America, swimming and anticipating sending money back to her folks in India, though she will never be able to do so without criminal activities. Dallas, the fast-talking maid, is tough as nails and taking no crap from her boyfriend, comes around to planning an escape from Poughkeepsie.
This is director Sonejuhi Sinha’s first feature narrative, though her shorts could be looked as a almost prequels to this work. Her “Miles of Sand” is about a single mother in India determined to repay her debts, while “Love Comes Later” focuses on an undocumented motel employee. In her notes Sinha advises that motels are a hotbed of crime and that crimes committed by women have gone up ten times over in the 1990s. If you want to take her “Stray Dolls” (the title presumably comparing the marginal characters to pathetic, scruffy and unwanted stray dogs) to be about female empowerment, that would not be unreasonable, though these are not the kinds of people who would be models that a feminist politician like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez would embrace. Still, they do what they think they have to do, when following the law would guarantee them the equivalent of a life spent in Poughkeepsie. Should we root for them?
97 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B