M.F.A. is a 2017 is a thriller about an art student who taps into a rich source of creative inspiration after the accidental death of her rapist.
Francesca Eastwood, in only a few film appearances, is proving to be a formidable actress, her wide-eyed, often haunting presence making for a growing number of terrific performances. Last year’s western, Outlaws and Angels saw her just about steal the entire show with a raw, unflinching turn as a young woman abused, and now once again, in Natalia Leite‘s M.F.A., she takes on an embattled girl out for vengeance. It’s a harrowing story and while it revels in its madness, is saved by Eastwood’s electrifying performance.
Noelle (Eastwood) is a struggling art student at Balboa University, her work regarded as middling and lacking originality by her classmates and professor. She longs to find inspiration but is increasingly artistically stagnated, finding motivation in the handsome and talented Luke (Peter Vack), a fellow artist. She accepts his invitation to attend a party at his house, and smitten by his charms, follows him upstairs, where he suddenly attacks her, violently raping her in his bedroom. Stunned by the experience, and getting bad advice from her roommate Skye (Leah McKendrick) and resistance from the university counselor Melinda (Mary Price Moore), she returns to face Luke and demand an apology and in their confrontation, an accident leaves him dead. Surprisingly, this triggers in her a taste for revenge, putting her on a murderous journey that also changes everything about her art.
Wickedly dark, M.F.A. is a savage beast, a commentary as much about the horrors of sexual assault as that of what drives creativity. Noelle is under extreme pressure from her highly-competitive and judgemental class to perform and finds release in the extermination of those that have raped girls on campus. It’s a slow burn that ignites a flashfire as she takes to the killing with a manic fervor, each one less concealed than the last. She loathes the bureaucracy of the system, one that puts blame on the victims, even finding a support group, led by Jenna (Melanie Britton), whose intentions are good but seem more about preparing for attack than preventing it. Her solution is, needless to say, extreme.
On the case is Kennedy (Clifton Collins Jr.), a detective who seems to have it all together but can’t quite get the break he needs. Collins Jr. is a bit wasted in the part, his role more symbolic than investigatory, and unfortunately not all that compelling. He’s never the authoritative presence the character really needs, and nor is the seemingly forced addition of a subplot involving Skye, which does little to add to it all other than provide more meat for the fodder. The film also spends too much time on these vengeful acts, which tends to distract from the larger message of change through pain, instead racking up a large body count, however, it ultimately delivers what it intends.
Through all that, there can’t be enough emphasis on how committed Eastwood is to it all and it’s her always convincing, even tormented portrayal that remains the takeaway. Fearless, she puts herself through a traumatic, transformative performance and it completely elevates what could be a standard TV-esque drama into something altogether different. She’s every bit the reason to recommend. It’s not always an easy watch, but M.F.A. is a unique and timely film.
Movie description: M.F.A. is a 2017 is a thriller about an art student who taps into a rich source of creative inspiration after the accidental death of her rapist.
Director(s): Leah McKendrick
Actor(s): Francesca Eastwood, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Welch