There’s a special place reserved in purgatory for a certain type of storyteller, especially in terms of PRINCESS CYD. People of Color, women, working class, queer — belonging to any combination of marginalized communities automatically seats you and your story unfairly on judgment’s knife edge.

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There are just so few, and your community is so desperate to be seen and seen truthfully and artfully, that the pressure to do them justice and do them proud can be difficult to bear. One false step, one weak point can lead to disappointment. It is not a fair burden. It’s with this in mind that I find myself terribly frustrated by Stephen Cone’s sixth feature-length film, PRINCESS CYD.

The Journey of PRINCESS CYD

PRINCESS CYD is a journey paved with the best of intentions. It’s a caring look at girlhood, at community, at intergenerational relationships. At what it means for each person to feel desire and joy. While the film seems unable to decide if Cyd, the candid and can-do titular character, or Miranda Ruth, a generation older and far more deliberate in her bearing and interiorities, is the protagonist of the narrative. However, their familial, but cautious relationship is full of potential.

PRINCESS CYD

Their genuine moments of connection and vulnerability with each other are often hobbled by one-sided inquisitions that serve more as vehicles than organic discoveries. Characters take turns serving as a device for each other.

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Miranda’s placid life is disturbed by her very own manic pixie dream niece in the shape of Cyd. And, Cyd herself questions what she always took for granted after meeting the genderqueer wage laborer, Katie. Katie, played with easy charm, by Malic White. Cone serves up sequences of tenderness. Such as an awkward but breathless dance on a rooftop, with a healthy dose of contrivance.

An Unfortunate Clunky Script

These halting moments require space to breathe. In an interview with OUT magazine, Cone explains how he wrote the script for PRINCESS CYD in mid-June and shot it the following August, and it certainly shows. There was not accurate timing to tighten up a clunky script or to mark the natural inhale and exhale between scenes. What is meant as a love letter to a summer of self-discovery in Chicago becomes an exercise of moving from one calculated breakthrough to another.

PRINCESS CYD

Every now and then, the film does find its footing. The sequence of Miranda Ruth’s monthly soiree of Chicago writers and artists and neighbors feels born from something real and loving and natural. But these brief windows are overshadowed by revelations that should be given due diligence. A violent loss in Cyd’s childhood and Katie’s personal and interpersonal traumas end up drifting by as one-note dramatic devices.

Final Thoughts: PRINCESS CYD

There is no queer death and there is no queer tragedy. That is, characters are not made to suffer for their identity or their love. And that in itself is rare enough to plead a case for the film.

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But what this story has in heart does not make up being unable to find believable roots in character or circumstance. And for that, PRINCESS CYD will remain stuck between a rock and a hard place. Rare and kind enough to be wanted, but clumsy and graceless enough to be discarded.

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