Fast Color is about magic in the little things. That might sound corny, but it works. But while Fast Color eventually unspools into a larger story, it is mostly a quiet, intimate movie about three generations of women who just so happen to have telekinetic powers. This movie wears its heart on its sleeve and is better for it, giving these women the chance to grow into their powers as they move through their relationships.
At the core of the movie is the middle generation, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ruth. Ruth is having a hard go of things. Everyone is, considering that their world is going through an eight-year drought. Water has become an expensive commodity that people sell by the jug or the half-jug. Ruth is the type of person who can only afford the half-jug and is pushed by what seems to be a mixture of anxiety and aimlessness.
She’s right to be anxious. Ruth gets painful and violent seizures that require being restrained. And then, those attract a man who turns out to be from the government (a quietly scary Christopher Denham). He knows Ruth’s secret: she can telekinetically disassemble objects. They struggle, Ruth escapes, and that means she has to go to the only place she can feel safe. She has to go home.
The background details of Fast Color lie not in facts but in feelings. The movie does not want to linger on the full societal effects a monumental drought would have on the world, or where in the country it is set. Its quiet moments are in Ruth’s tired frustration at having to order a half-jug or her joy in finding her favorite song in a bar’s jukebox. Mbatha-Raw is playing a woman grasping for her last straw, and director Julia Hart heightens these early moments with a dried-out feeling that makes for a strong contrast with the film’s final segments.
As Soraya McDonald wrote, Fast Color is “about female power and those who seek to study and contain it.” Hart, who also co-wrote the movie with her husband, Jordan Horowitz, wants to make it clear that among those who seek to contain that power are the women who possess it in the first place. To paraphrase another powered individual, with great power comes a lot of trouble.
When Ruth goes home, she is confronted by the presence of her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Perhaps the single coolest shot in the movie is Lorraine Toussaint smoking on the porch of her middle-of-nowhere home, casually disassembling her cigarette as Nina Simone plays in the background.
Fast Color puts an emphasis on sensory memory. Ruth reacts to the rebellion of X-Ray Spex, Bo to the defiance of Nina Simone, Lila to the inclusion she feels when Ruth tells her that Lauryn Hill’s best song came because of her child. Throughout the movie, the three push and pull at each other, trying to expand the sensory feelings of the other. This can come from shared memories, trying to stay sober, or exploring the full capabilities of their powers.
Hart uses several moments to hint at a deeper mythos for its characters, a world where they are not alone in their powers. In 2019, the show was set to be adapted as a TV series by Amazon. While there doesn’t appear to be any further public development, it’s easy to imagine more here. There aren’t many movies like Fast Color, and it’s worth watching for that reason alone.