Though "Actress" is billed as a documentary, director Robert Greene's fascinating, somewhat enigmatic portrait of actress Brandy Burre strikes a delicate balancing act as it allows reality to blur together with fiction. Burre, whose most well-known role was as a recurring character on the television series "The Wire," stepped away from acting when she became pregnant, moving to the small Hudson Valley town of Beacon, New York, in order to raise a family with long-term boyfriend Tim Reinke. Asked to take on the role of stay-at-home mom; cooking, cleaning, and raising children, she played her part. But a dissatisfaction with her domestic life has grown throughout the years and as her relationship with Tim slowly disintegrates, she decides to take the first steps toward getting back into acting. It's tough going -- aware that aging is seen as a death sentence for a working actress, at one point Burre laments that the only parts left for her are as the "bitchy, over-the-hill girlfriend or wife."
At a point, it becomes clear that Greene is asking us to consider how we each play a role in our own lives; we each have a certain idea of ourselves which we balance with how we'd like to be viewed by those around us and by society as large. The reality is usually found somewhere in between. Greene demonstrates how the strains of being a parent and gender roles play their part as well. In its way, the film would make a good double feature with "Gone Girl," which examined a similar concept through the lens of a mystery-thriller.
There's a moment early on that tips Greene's hand slightly, when we hear Burre repeat a statement, giving a slightly different "performance" of the line the second time around. It's a fleeting moment, but one that leaves us questioning the authenticity of everything we're being shown. Greene alternates a natural, vérité style with more artful, expressionistic moments filled with slow-motion photography and bright, saturated color. In these sequences Burre is sometimes dressed as a perfect 1950's housewife. Then the credits begin, starting with the title card "Starring Brandy Burre," and it's tempting to view the film as one big audition tape meant to highlight Burre's talents. It seems that life has crafted a better acting reel than she could ever have asked for.