SXSW 2017: A Critically Endangered Species
The film A Critically Endangered Species opens with famed poet and novelist Maya Dardel (Lena Olin) calling a live radio show, announcing she’s is going to kill herself. She’s made the decision and isn’t going to be talked out of it; she announces she requires an heir, someone who will control her estate and be responsible for her legacy after her death. The thing is, she wants a male writer, because she hates female writers. Maya starts to interview prospects and it’s soon apparent she may have ulterior motives. She begins to psychologically unwrap each college-aged writer. Maya, who’s in her early 60s, after the perfunctory artistry talk, propositions each young man into giving her oral sex.
The film, directed and written by Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak, focuses on Maya’s frustration with the aging artist’s life. Maya believes her best years are behind her, and with no kids or family, she doesn’t feel like she has anything of importance to contribute anymore. Cotler and Zyzak represent Maya’s malaise with enough introspection to keep the film dynamic. Lena Olin’s performance carries the film, a fitting role for the veteran actress who would struggle to find a substantial role like this in the Hollywood studio system.
Amateurish camerawork is bothersome for most of the runtime — static shots of lawn ornaments and actors' reflections off glass doors don't add much weight. But, the film hits its stride when Maya narrows down her heirs apparent to two, a soft-spoken poet, Ansel (Nathan Keyes), and a simmering narcissist, Paul (Alexander Koch). We don’t know how serious Maya is at times — will she go through with her suicide or is this just an existential crisis she’s going through? With Ansel and Paul, she looks to work through her issues while breaking down theirs. Advice from her friend, Leonora (Rosanna Arquette), doesn’t seem to quell Maya’s thoughts of insignificance. It’s a seemingly never-ending struggle with no clear answers; A Critically Endangered Species tackles the life of an aging artist struggling with their own legacy and mortality, and ends up being effectively engaging by the end.