Fancy Dance: Sundance 2023 Film Review

Year: 2023

Runtime: 90 Minutes

Director: Erica Tremblay

Writers: Erica Tremblay, Miciana Alise

Stars: Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski

By Morgan Roberts

Her sister is missing. Her niece is no longer in her custody. What can Jax (Lily Gladstone) do? In this heartfelt and anxiety-producing drama, Jax kidnaps her niece and searches for her missing sister after she disappears from the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation in Oklahoma. While the FBI is search for Jax and her niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson), Jax embarks on a road trip to bring some closure to her and her family.

This is not the first time a film has highlighted the lack of resources for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. But it is the first time I have seen a film by an Indigenous filmmaker bringing light and education to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic. But this film is not just about the crimes committed against Indigenous women. It also shows the joy and beauty in this particular community. Writer and director Erica Tremblay is from the Seneca-Cayuga Nation. We see this community fight to find their missing community member. We see them support one another emotionally through their struggles. And Roki is focused on the upcoming powwow. It is a gathering, a celebration with traditional outfits and dancing. It is about connection to family and community. And much like a powwow itself, this film focuses so much on the bonds we share. The importance of those people in our lives. 

A still from Fancy Dance by Erica Tremblay, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The film is anchored by Gladstone’s stunning performance. Gladstone highlights Jax’s depth, the trauma she has endured, the sacrifices she has had to make for her family. Jax is equal parts emotional support and calculated in her quest to find her sister. Gladstone has the range to allow both heart and logic to drive their character. Sure, there are times when Jax’s calculations outweigh their feelings or emotions get the better of them. That is human and far more realistic to have those teeter rather than lean heavy in one realm or another. One of the other elements of Gladstone’s performance that I love is how present they are. The way she reacts and exists amongst their costars, it is truly a marvel to behold.

“Fancy Dance” (2023) is a beautiful film about family and community. It also recognizes the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in a way we do not normally see on film. We see the struggles and strife. While it is an integral storyline in the film, we also get to see an Indigenous family and community that experiences happiness and hope and love. 

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