It’s a difficult thing making a film about a great loss, and Andy Ostroy‘s pensive, heartfelt Adrienne (2021), created for HBO, suffers in its essence from the predicament of its director, and the emotional toll it must have taken to make it; a husband’s public farewell to the love of his life – at the same time a tribute to her outstanding talent and ethereal presence, and a chronology of a crime. To add to the weight of expectation, included in the film is the story of his and Adrienne’s daughter Sophie, in many ways, so similar in features and temperament to his late wife.

Adrienne Shelly was a film director, screenwriter and actress, the muse of Hal Hartley films, and an indie darling. She became a Sundance star after her 2007 posthumously-released film Waitress, later adapted for Broadway into an incredibly popular long-running show. Shelly was murdered in her West Village apartment by a construction worker, Diego Pillco, after she confronted him during his attempted robbery. Staged to look like a suicide, it took a determined widower, and a team of seasoned NYPD detectives to untangle the staged scene of the crime, and find the murderer.

This documentary is, in fact, two stories in one. The aspect of Adrienne that is pure cinema – the footage, small triumphs, haunted encounters, Ostroy’s astonishing prison confrontation with Pillco, all the sweetness, minutia, and regret of a life that was in full bloom before it brutally ended, is truly chilling and stellar in its rawness and fortitude.

Its weakness, sadly, is the overwhelming element of testimonies and therapeutic digressions, which certainly have its place within the orbit of this doc, but perhaps should have been included as an extra feature, rather than weaved into the narrative thread, itself.

Nevertheless, as uneven as it is in its presentation, Adrienne certainly merits a viewing, and a moment of reflexion – on how a charmed life can turn into a tragedy in a blink of an eye. Perhaps despite itself, Ostroy’s personal investigation dives deep into the mystery of fate, and fatal crossroads with strangers, of a misfortune redeemed through the eternal gift of art.

It is with a mix of awe and sorrow that the director frames the serpentine ques in front of the Broadway hit that is Waitress, wittily penned by his genius deceased wife, and the public’s complete unawareness of her name and work.

The beauty of the originality that Shelly brought to cinema, as well as the absolute fragility of all our moments on Earth, is what I walked away with after watching Adrienne.

And that, I feel, she would have liked.


Author: ©Milana Vujkov

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