In interviews, Frederick Wiseman routinely maintains that most people are simply incapable of putting on an act while he’s filming them—a statement that’s more persuasive as a first principle of his brand of observational-analytical nonfiction than as what necessarily happens. Filmmaker and critic Robert Greene explicitly bases his new film Actress—its title, like so many of Wiseman’s, winkingly plain—on the premise that his subject is always performing, by invitation or otherwise.
Greene’s eager partner in his experiment is Brandy Burre, who played the no-bullshit campaign consultant on seasons 3 and 4 of The Wire, and she’s another in a line of performer subjects stretching back to the beginning of cinema verité. Actress finds Burre settled in upstate New York with a dutiful husband and two children… and climbing the walls with the urge to act again. Greene’s approach to her outspoken efforts at balancing job, family, and independence is a lively blend of tag-along, sit-down, and staged, with song cues, repeated line deliveries, and romantic tableaux.
Even aside from these techniques and devices, Greene’s unpredictable film would be noteworthy if only for spotlighting a woman in her late thirties who feels unfulfilled and makes life choices that could easily draw reproach. Her open ambivalence and some alert and perceptive camerawork by Greene (Fake It So Real, Kati with an I) are at least as interesting as the film’s conceptual underpinnings about the construction of roles in daily life.