On the surface, In Her Name is a by-the-numbers black & white family drama, but its colorful characters elevate it to awkward highs that make it a worthy watch.
Film festivals usually love to treat us to feature debuts from first time directors, and Tribeca is no exception. Sarah Carter (Pearl) is somebody who has found tremendous success in the industry, having the honor to work with icons such as Spike Lee, Judd Apatow and Steven Spielberg. These legendary directors inspired her to become a filmmaker in her own right and she’s kicking down the door with her debut film In Her Name. Freya (Erin Hammond, Shangri-LA), an aspiring artist, has sacrificed her career to take care of her father, who used to be an artist himself. Eventually, Freya’s sister Fiona (Ciera Danielle, Banking on Christmas) shows up to help. Both sisters have to grapple with the fact that their famous dad will pass away while reliving old memories in the house they were raised in. As they do this, the sisters are forced to work around their sibling rivalry as they navigate their eccentric father as well as the new-agey hippies and groupies that flock around him.
The story of two siblings being separated by their parents’ divorce is nothing groundbreaking or new, if anything it is something we’re all very familiar with. Going into In Her Name, I expected exactly this, a predictable tale of two sisters forced to learn how to love one another after years of resenting each other. Yeah, these themes and ideas are still very much present in Carter’s feature debut, but they are executed in such an odd and awkward manner that it makes the film stand up on its own. This works both in the movie’s favor and against it, as its main characters are relatable, charming, oozing with so much personality, yet the movie at times focuses on subplots that either are underdeveloped or don’t go anywhere.
Erin Hammond and Ciera Danielle‘s performances are the main highlight here. Hammond portrays Freya, the “daddy’s girl” who lives in her father’s shadow hoping to gain his approval regarding her own artwork. She is sort of spoiled, yet grounded in reality. Cold and not able to express her feelings, yet outgoing and funny. Super protective of her father, yet there’s a sense of resentment as he treats strangers with more respect than he has for her. Danielle, on the other hand, is bringing Fiona to life in her committed mission to maintaining her happy-go-lucky housewife persona, even if underneath that mask she is falling apart as she’s going through her own family and marriage issues back home. She, too, has to deal with the challenge of not really having a healthy relationship with her father or sister as she was taken away by her mother after the divorce. Once Freya and Fiona come together, very early on it, makes for an odd pairing that quickly proves to be a fascinating sisterly relationship.
Philippe Caland (The Guru & the Gipsy), who plays Marv, Freya and Fiona’s father, is quite excellent. From spending a few moments with him, you automatically get why Freya is the way she is, because she’s the mirror image of Marv. His characterization, though, is somehow colder and warmer than Freya’s. What do I mean with this? He treats the hippies and groupies that flock around him with much more warmth than he does with his own daughters. Clearly these people are fascinated by him since he’s such an inspiring, famous artist, but they are also just there to give him the attention he seeks in his final days in an attempt to squeeze something out of him at the last minute. Younger women flirt with him because they want something in exchange, and men like Peter (James Aaron Oliver, Alone Wolf) praise him to no end for their own benefit as well. Despite all of this, Caland brings such a likability to Marv that makes us invested in his journey when he isn’t being a douchebag to his daughters.
Where the film falls short for me is when we take away focus from the dynamic between sisters and the family drama with their father to focus on the sisters individually. Not to say their own personal struggles aren’t interesting, because they are, but they end up going nowhere. Fiona, for example, develops a weird sexual relationship with Peter. As you would expect with her marriage issues, this leads Fiona to feel seen and desired by another man. This would have been engaging had the man in question not been completely dislikable from the second he appears on screen, making Fiona feel used by the time the film comes to its conclusion. Even then, her marriage problems are resolved by the end, but it doesn’t feel earned. Last time Fiona had a discussion with her husband she completely blew up on him, and the next scene they share together they act like nothing happened. We don’t see any confrontation, it just happens off-screen. As for Freya, we suddenly focus on her relationship with her lover Judah (Nyambi Nyambi, The Good Fight), which adds nothing to the story. I guess it’s here to show she has genuine emotions for other people, but this could have been explored better if we just spent more time with Fiona and Freya together.
In Her Name works best when it delivers on its premise. I understand wanting to separate these two characters, challenge them in their own right, then have them reunite and come together by the end. But when the best scenes are those that have them reflecting on the past, how much they used to love each other when younger, the trauma of their mother leaving and having their eccentric father deal with the family drama, I can’t help but wonder what it could have been like if that was the film we got from start to finish. That being said, Sarah Carter delivers a competent feature debut. Through her sense of humor in her writing and the way she uses music and visuals around her characters’ surroundings, you can tell Carter poured her heart into this story and she has even more to offer to the industry with her creativity. Yes, In Her Name takes us through a bumpy ride, but its ending delivers a cathartic resolution for both Freya and Fiona where they make peace with their family’s past and look forward to moving forward with a much promising future. It takes a special kind of talent like Carter to pull off such an emotionally rewarding finale despite issues one might have with the film. If In Her Name demonstrates anything, it is that we should keep an eye on Sarah Carter, because she’s here to stay.
In Her Name premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 12, 2022.