Dionne Edwards’ Pretty Red Dress is a confident debut feature that puts masculinity under the microscope – here’s our review.
Calling it “pretty” is an understatement. Smothered with sparkling beading and sequins, this red dress is short, sassy and sexy and everything aspiring singer Candice (Alexandra Burke) could ask for as she auditions for her dream role – rock icon Tina Turner.
It’s also the catalyst for seismic shifts in the home she shares with Travis (Natey Jones) and their teenage daughter, Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun). He’s just been released from prison, only to find that things have changed while he’s been away: Candice is a front-runner for the lead in a stage show and Kenisha is struggling at school, so her relationship with her mother is tetchy to say the least.
The dress is a gift from Travis to Candice for her next audition, but all it does is cause problems: secrets come to the surface, tensions bubble over and he has to take a close look at who he is and how he wants the world to see him.
Putting masculinity under the microscope, Dionne Edwards’ debut feature exudes confidence. In the foreground is Travis grappling with deep, personal questions, all sparked by his fascination with the dress. He’s wracked with guilt about it yet relishes its fluidity and sensual lines, yet every time he puts it on, there’s a simmering feeling of dread. Something is going to have to give. Literally. Yet Edwards never hangs a label on him or his behaviour. Her vision is broader than that.
Out of prison, he’s unsure of his place at home and within his wider family circle. It’s clear right from the start that here’s always been a rivalry with his brother, Fletcher (Edwin De La Renta), who never seems to put a foot wrong, and it’s only a matter of time before Travis’s resentment spills over and there’s a huge argument between the two. And fitting in again with the routines of daily life with Candice and Kenisha is equally difficult. The film takes a refreshingly energetic approach to the subject, one that neither preaches nor bottles out.
With three impressive performances at its heart, the film is also a compassionate but no-nonsense character study. In her cinema debut, Alexandra Burke effectively captures Candice’s determination, despite the highs and inevitable lows that go with life in the entertainment industry. Natey Jones superbly conveys Travis’s confusion as he tries to navigate his new life and work out what his future could look like. As Kenisha, newcomer Temilola Olatunbosun is much more than just a truculent teenager: the certificates on her bedroom wall point to talents she rarely mentions.
With its colour, energy and non-judgemental tone and believable characters, Pretty Red Dress is easily one of the best independent British offerings of 2023.
Pretty Red Dress is in cinemas on 16th June.
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