Anna (Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) are two L.A. actresses looking to reconnect and repair their friendship while on a weekend getaway to Big Sur, where festering personal and professional jealousies make for a tenser experience than either anticipated. Then things get weird, as the unnerving “Always Shine” descends into a slippery tale of fractured identity in the vein of “Persona” and “Mulholland Drive.”
Beth’s more acquiescent nature has resulted in her landing more gigs, and she’s found minor success acting in a string of cheapo slasher movies. She’s not thrilled that these films usually require her to take off her clothes, but at least it’s work. In every respect, Anna is decidedly more confrontational, and that’s made things more of a struggle for her. “Do you ever feel like a whore?,” she asks when jealousy bursts forth during a pleasant conversation about her friend’s recent career successes.
There’ a righteous anger burning beneath Sophia Takal’s psychological thriller, fueled by Lawrence Michael Levine’s script, as it weaves in some sharp jabs at a misogynistic industry that pits women like Anna and Beth against one another. Davis and FitzGerald both deliver spectacular performances, wringing every ounce of tension from exchanges that become passive-aggressive (and sometimes just aggressive-aggressive) quests for dominance. Throughout, Takal’s formal invention — from non-linear editing to sound distortion — only adds to the growing feeling of unease.