(Written by Allison Brown)
Catch the Fair One caught me off guard as one of the stronger Tribeca contenders I’ve seen yet! With its dark, gritty and gloomy turns, it is impossible to not be engaged in Kaylee’s struggle to find her missing sister, Weeta (Mainaku Borrero). The film invokes notes of Taken, with a female edge; instead of storming through guns ablaze, the film is slow-burn thriller as Kaylee slyly slips her way into all the right places, perhaps at the wrong time.
The film opens on Kaylee (Kali Reis, who is also one of the film’s screenwriters) prepping for a boxing match. Kali Reis is also a real-life boxer; she set precedents as the first Native American to win the International Boxing Association middleweight crown. Trainer/friend Brick (Shelly Vincent) is shown massaging Kaylee’s hands and neck, as well as applying bandages to place under the boxing gloves. Brick and Kaylee spar, then abruptly the film cuts to Kaylee (nicknamed KO) laying down with blood oozing from her mouth. Director Josef Kubota Wladyka forces us to wonder: how did she get here? In time, we will see this injury wasn’t from boxing at all. It is from a blade she strangely keeps in her mouth, which will serve to Kaylee’s advantage in the prime moment of danger.
Kaylee’s life is not as flashy as it once was. She now lives in a shelter, where she is forced to share showers with strangers, and works in a dingy restaurant where customers stiff her for tips. She struggles to find her next meal, as she is told by a supervisor, Missy “If you want food, just tell the kitchen at the beginning of your shift.” She has a strained relationship with her mother, Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero), who ironically leads a support group for individuals with missing loved ones. A past drug addiction, potentially due to “a bad back” briefly mentioned, seems to have torn her world apart. It is not clear if a sports injury causing drug addiction or just unrelated drug issues have ravaged her career and life.
What is seemingly a boxing movie, takes a quick turn to a sex trafficking infiltration only five minutes in. The allusions to Kaylee’s matches serve to show that she is a fighter, who will do anything it takes to find her loved one. Above a stark photo of a very young girl in her underwear with a black bar masking her face reads the phrases, “NTV” (native), “OFF THE BOAT” (underage), “UMBRELLA” (no condom) and “HH” (half hour). After identifying her sister in this disturbing Craigslist ad, posted by trafficking head honcho Bobby, Kaylee and Brick pay off a criminal involved to set us on the path of the plot.
The plan is to pretend that Lisa (Isabelle Chester), who “find[s] girls and bring[s] them to the motel, has recruited Kaylee off the street as a new sex worker. After being placed in many uncomfortable situations, Kaylee gains the upper hand and battles through her journey for answers. Along the way, we are shown some jarring realities of this crime world. Major villains have seemingly normal family lives with young children and their partners, despite suffering through domestic abuse, are complicit; it is kept all in the family among generations!
The denouement brings us full circle back to the opening scene, in a very satisfying way. Unfortunately, this story definitely leaves the viewer in a bleak and hopeless state of mind. There isn’t always a happy ending.
Catch the Fair One fights its way to Tribeca Film Festival at its premiere on Sunday, June 13th at 9:30pm.