Final Girls Berlin Film Festival Review: The Stylist

  • Director: Jill Gevargizian 
  • Writer: Jill Gevargizian 
  • Stars: Brea Grant, Najarra Townsend, Sarah McGuire

Review

There are people in life to whom everyone tell their secrets: their priest, their lawyer, their bartender and their stylist. The role of hairstylist is a complex one. You make an appointment to see them, you look forward to this appointment because it’s a moment in your life where someone is catering only to you. They listen to everything you say and offer a sympathetic ear. Your stylist is there for job interview haircuts, wedding hair, family photo hair-do’s, funeral haircuts: they are always there for every major event in your life and they probably know things about you that you haven’t told your best friend, but ultimately, they are your employee and that is where things get tricky. Have you ever really thought about your stylist and how they receive all of this information?

When Claire, our stylist in question, is asked by a particularly flippant client why she likes her job, she explains to her, “You get to go in and out of people’s lives, you hear stories, you give life advice. It’s almost like having a family.” And it is. But what if Claire doesn’t think the family vibe ends when you leave her chair? What if she wants to quite literally take a piece of you home with her?

Based on her short of the same name, writer/director Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist is a uniquely feminine and sympathetic take on the well worn obsessed female friend trope. This is not simply a single, white female who wants to steal your man. Claire (Najarra Townsend) wants to be in your life in a real way, but she just doesn’t know how. While she presents as “normal” at work, she is anything but when she leaves the salon. With almost no backstory, we only know that Claire leads a very solitary life with a small dog and a cellar where she keeps the scalps of past clients. She sits in front of her vanity and chooses the hairstyle that suits her mood and tries to channel the attitude of the woman it once belonged to. Just like Frank Zito before her, Claire has an absent mother and a proclivity for looking for love in the scalps of women. When her client Olivia (Brea Grant) pulls the ubiquitous “wedding emergency” request for Claire to do her hair at the last minute, the two start on a strange path that will not end in wedded bliss.

Bathed in a warm, golden glow with a modern/retro aesthetic, The Stylist feels like a cozy nook to curl up in. Couple this with Townsend’s tightrope act of balancing kindness and sociopathy, it’s an exercise in visual and emotional dichotemies that keep you guessing as to how Claire’s mental illness will escalate and who’s head will be next on the proverbial and literal chopping block. Genre mainstays Grant and Townsend work off of one another in such an effortless way which helps the viewer feel empathy for Claire, because here’s the thing: she’s not always wrong. Claire sees Olivia in a way that others don’t  have the privilege to. She sees her heartaches, hopes and fears and this makes her even more protective of Olivia and the friendship that she’s trying to build with her.

Gevargizian has pulled off something truly wonderful. Many a short films have not been able to make the jump to feature length and remain compelling for the entire run time. In fact, Gevargizian made the story more intriguing by editing out something that was in the short. No longer carrying a scar on her neck, Claire looks to be a young, smart, kind and beautiful woman with a career and everything going for her: nothing in such a well put together package would ever be considered deadly.

Another feat of the film is that you can see all of the influences on Gevargizian’s work, (blink and you’ll miss a tee shirt for The Ranger) but at no point does The Stylist feel like a patchwork quilt of things that she has seen before. Utilizing a Kickstarter campaign, The Stylist went from short to feature within a year, but nothing about the film ever looks or feels rushed. The dreamy cinematography (thank you, Robert Patrick Stern) and the perfectly curated set design, hair, makeup and wardrobe all gel together in a no name, hipster doofus city populated by only the kind of tastemakers you see clogging your Instagram feed.

The Stylist takes a hard look at female relationships and the way women are perceived as successful or not based on the arbitrary accomplishments society thinks they need to achieve. We are so consumed with how things look, that no one looks deeper at the broken souls wearing these proverbial meat suits. Claire does, though, and if she likes what she sees, she’ll take it. Watching Claire take such care in removing her trophies is fascinating in the same way that watching a shark eat a seal is fascinating. The practical effects are a stand out and as everything moves towards Olivia’s wedding, we are so woven into Claire’s issues that the stellar final act is a bit of an emotional conundrum that is, ultimately, the only way this story could have ended and it’s perfect.

Played as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival

Lisa Fremont

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