“My Name is A by Anonymous” takes itself very seriously. And this “seriousness” is both the film’s curse and the best compliment I can give it. Directed and written by Shane Ryan, “My Name is A” presents an ere of sincerity and ambition that adeptly creates a keenly realized fragmented, lo-fi aesthetic in an effort to present a portrait of an angst ridden, troubled adolescent girl. And while Ryan creates some visually interesting moments these cannot help obscure the more glaring oversights and missteps we encounter.
Set over the course of three days in 2009, the film centers on Alyssa (Katie Marsh), a young adolescent girl who spends her days trolling around abandoned lots, teasing her younger brother, and making fun of her Sidekick best friend (Demi Baumann). Alyssa and the Sidekick call each other “fucking cunts”, talk about boys at school, film each other with a flip-video pointing imaginary guns at their heads, and cut each other with a small pairing knife in a bathtub. Simultaneously we are introduced to two other women. First there is an older adolescent Performer (Teona Dolnikova) who paints and sings while struggling with severe bouts of depression. Secondly we encounter a twenty-something woman (Alex Damiano, credited as Angst) who suffers from bulimia and what seems to be sexual abuse at the hands of her father. As the film aimlessly drifts through the days with these women, it slowly becomes apparent that the violence they inflict upon themselves and the violence inflicted upon them is beginning to manifest in outward aggression toward an innocent victim.
Look, everyone! It’s a cornucopia of sorrow!
“My Name is A” is perhaps best described as a series of fantasy episodes interspersed with fragments of everyday viciousness. Ryan alternates between self-shot flip-video footage and a loosely framed third person perspective watching each of the women sluggishly wading through their sadness (that’s right, there is sadness wading!). But as the film unfolds, we learn—in a rather extended revelation sequence—that the Sidekick, Performer, and Angst are all Alyssa. However, Ryan does not make it clear if these are characters created by Alyssa, if they are different personalities she wrestles with, or if they are stylized renditions of her the film is utilizing in order to give us a more complete view of who Alyssa is as a character. The conceit has the flavor of being a twist for the sake of having a twist. We gain little by knowing that these characters are really one yet the film presents this information to us as though it is earth shattering, seemingly to rely on its presentation to be enough to keep us from thinking too much about what it means. This technique simply reveals more questions that might be interesting to explore and then shuts the door on them.
The film seems content to undermine any potential it may have had for discussing more interesting questions concerning Allyssa’s motivations and themes of gender violence. Ryan doesn’t seem to have any further insight into whom this girl is or why she might be influenced to make the decisions she does. When some access to interior desires is provided it quickly becomes apparent that the flip-video devices were put in the actress’s hands and they were told to be manic, sad, or angry. Ryan lets too much of the film’s responsibility lay on Marsh’s shoulders and while the actress does have a fierce presence she lacks the kind of improvisational chops the film calls for her to have. The same can be said for Dolnikova, Damiano, and Baumann. All three of these women have some bravery in them but unfortunately it is left misdirected; spilling out in awkward, cliché rants. There are a good number of scenes that require Marsh and the other actresses to play with the idea of depression or masochism. But these scenes usually result in incomprehensible ramblings in which every swear word in the preverbal shock-language book are thrown at “God” or society in general. It’s a technique that smacks of student film projects that mistake sincere severity for quality.
Along with a handful of some rather beautiful moments, the film also exhibits an interesting, slightly absurdist use of musical accompaniment. The music cues throughout the film run the gamut of being appropriately atmospheric and moody to just completely silly and off-putting. And while this may be due to the fact the music department listed in the credits is larger than the production crew, there is a manic kind of tension between the images and sound that I usually find pretty bland and overdone. Need something to be “creepy”? Put a pop song over it! (Think of the Portlandia “Put A Bird On It” sketch except with music). But in the case of “My Name is A” the music functions quite well with the images we see or nicely counterpoints particular character actions.
As previously mentioned, for much of the running time we watch as Alyssa, the Performer, the Sidekick, and Angst enact moments of self-mutilation and pain with little to no investigation into this behavior or the potential social forces that may be causing it (this doesn’t even begin to touch the fact all these women are white, seem not to work, and are middle-class but who’s counting, right?). These are moments presented to us for no other means than to shock; a technique I have no problem with and can certainly appreciate. And at times I can almost get behind the film as a straight up grief/depression exploitation picture. A kind of Lifetime movie-of-the-week for the B picture crowd. And given a brief look at Ryan’s filmography it is entirely possible that is what the director is going for. Indeed, there is something to be said about depicting such manic, self-destructive behavior in its immediate translation of the self-shot footage. However, it is Ryan’s forced and misguided attempts at profundity that grind the film to a halt and make a rather dull and cumbersome end product.