Skip to Content
Stream Live
More Streaming Options
Recently Played
View Full Playlist
‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

Fancy Dance

July 6, 2024
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob
Fancy Dance

Lily Gladstone plays a tough native woman looking for a missing sister while taking care of her niece, in this gritty portrait of Native American life.

I’m not a fan of the Oscars, the Golden Globes, or most of the other Hollywood awards, but one thing I know: to win or even just be nominated helps an artist become much more well known. Lily Gladstone won a Globe and was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, the first Native American actress to do either. She now stars in a film called Fancy Dance. Erica Tremblay directs, in her feature debut, and co-wrote the picture with Miciana Alise. They’re both native women.

Gladstone plays Jax, a tough character living on the edge in Oklahoma’s Seneca-Cayuga Reservation. Her older sister has disappeared; there’s been no word from her for weeks, yet law enforcement doesn’t care enough to put any effort into finding her, since she’s run off suddenly before. The film’s excellent depiction of gritty life on the “rez” makes it clear that the disappearance of native women is sadly not unusual, but another symptom of neglect, mistreatment, and poverty.

In the meantime, Jax is taking care of her sister’s 13-year-old daughter Roki, played by Isabel Deroy-Olsen, a bright new talent who holds her own with Gladstone. An interesting aspect of the story, that Gladstone makes wholly believable, is that Jax is involved in some shady stuff, and is not at all what you would call a completely healthy influence on her niece. Together they make money through hustling and stealing—at one point they steal a white man’s truck and sell it to a guy Jax knows, and it turns out she has sometimes sold drugs for him. There’s a self-destructive streak in Jax’s nature, but we also understand that there aren’t a lot of respectable ways to thrive in her world. Roki has adopted her aunt’s attitude and has developed talents of her own, getting into the habit of shoplifting even when she doesn’t really need to, something that worries Jax.

The title of the movie, Fancy Dance, comes from a form of dance that has become common in gatherings known as “powwows.” Roki danced with her mother at powwows, and she desperately wants to get to this year’s annual event in Oklahoma City, convinced that her mother will show up there. Jax has her doubts, but doesn’t share them with her niece, promising to take her there. But then Child Protective Services discoves Jax’s arrest record, and decides to give custody of Roki to her white grandfather, played by the reliable Shea Wigham. He wants to be helpful, but Jax has never forgiven him for abandoning them when their mother died. The threat of losing Roki becomes the crisis fueling the plot, and eventually we end up in thriller territory.

Gladstone is nothing less than compelling throughout the film. I was amazed to discover that she did this performance during breaks in the making of Scorsese’s film, which was also shot in Oklahoma. Tremblay makes the stakes high—things could go terribly wrong in this story. The thriller aspect really got my heart racing. But above all this, Fancy Dance presents a steady, vivid awareness of the many details, large and small, that make up contemporary native life, and of the strength and love that must hold it all together.

American Indians,   family,   native,   powwow,   reservation,   Women,  


Sign Up