“Silver Haze” Finds Devastation and Beauty in a New Kind of Lesbian Romance

This Silver Haze review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors who are currently on strike, movies like this one would not be possible, and Autostraddle is grateful for the artists who do this work. This review contains very mild spoilers.

Outfest took place in Los Angeles between July 13 and Jul 23. 

When Franky meets Florence, her life changes forever. She breaks up with her shitty boyfriend, she creates distance from her alcoholic mother, she begins to develop a sense of self-worth. It’s been fifteen years since she was scarred in a fire and a life yearning for revenge begins to give way to a life seeking something more.

This is where the Hollywood version would stop. Franky would be taught to love herself by her perfect new girlfriend and an audience could feel happy knowing this person has overcome adversity due to the power of love. But Sacha Polak’s Silver Haze is not the Hollywood version. It’s real life and real life has starts and stops, pivots, surprises, new tragedies, new triumphs, another day and then another.

Based on lead actress Vicky Knight’s life, Silver Haze is a meandering drama that starts as a revenge story, morphs into a love story, and then morphs again into something more complicated, more tragic, and ultimately more hopeful. This is not an easy film, it’s not a maudlin film either. It’s a collaborative work of cinema that delves into the many ways — helpful and hurtful — that people cope with trauma.

The romance between Franky and Florence is seductive. Knight and co-star Esme Creed-Miles have a rare chemistry that crackles in their similarities and their many differences. But this is not a love story. These two women are not capable of loving one another as much as they’re capable of hurting one another. It’s devastating to witness even as the film finds empathy for the characters at their worst.

The tapestry of the film goes beyond this central relationship with Angela Bruce giving a beautiful supporting performance as Florence’s guardian. The cast is a mix of professionals and newcomers — Knight’s sister also plays a major role — and regardless of experience every part is perfectly, truthfully cast. The familial chemistry is just as raw as the romantic chemistry.

Cinema — including queer cinema — has long been fascinated with difference. There are plenty of movies with characters who have scars, but very few that don’t use them for either horror or inspiration. This movie is about so much more than creating positive representation for people with scars, and yet this aspect of the film is still noteworthy, as is the casting of autistic actor Archie Brigden as Florence’s brother. There are filmmakers who continue to make work about disability, neurodivergence, amputation, and scarring without any involvement from people who actually have these lived experiences. This film is proof of what’s possible when that experience is valued — when the realism is inherent, so the art can go somewhere far deeper than just representation.

Through telling the story of Franky and Florence, their families, their friends, and the systems that fail them, Silver Haze presents an array of coping mechanisms. Some seek revenge, some turn to religion, some enact cruelty on those who deserve it least, and some simply smoke the titular strain. Without judgment, the film shows how these different approaches work and don’t work.

It’s a painful journey for Franky, for Florence, for Vicky Knight, for most of us tasked with staying alive. But I’d argue a film like this is itself another coping mechanism. This is cinema that fills you with the devastating joy of being human. So much beauty can be born from so much pain.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 534 articles for us.


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