TIFF Next Wave Review: 'Lily & Kat'

Lily & Kat
(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Micael Preysler, Writ. Micael Preysler, Megan Platts
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Hannah Murray, Jack Falahee
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Lily (Jessica Rothe) and Kat (Hannah Murray) are two inseparable friends in their early twenties who are wild, fun, and ready to conquer the world. They’re still young enough to feel that they may live without the burden of responsibilities, but life comes calling very quickly when Kat abruptly announces that she’s moving back to London in a mere seven days. Lily, shell-shocked and heartbroken by the news, which Kat casually brings up at a party with thirty-to-fifty of her closest friends, finds herself in a quarter-life crisis and she begins to re-evaluate the foundation of her relationship with her BFF. Lily & Kat, which has its world premiere at the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, captures the frustrating, heartbreaking, and terrifying (yet exciting) period of growing up and becoming an adult as the test of Lily and Kat’s friendship puts Lily’s life in perspective.

The energetically youthful feature debut by Micael Preysler is breathless and funky as Lily & Kat puts Lily in a tailspin. These girls know how to have fun as Lily & Kat offers ample footage of the friends living it up in New York to a John Hughes-y synth score.  Lily and Kat are wild and carefree when the film begins, but it’s as if Kat knocks the last shred of adolescence out of Lily with her surprise announcement. Lily, on the verge of a messy break-up with her douchey boyfriend, Nick (Scott Evans), who treats her like dirt, desperately needs a girlfriend more than ever, so Kat’s abrupt plans for departure amount to a greater betrayal than all the cheating Nick does behind Lily’s back. What begins as an unbreakable bond of sisterhood falls into a duel between two frustrated rivals.

Kat, far more fun, freewheeling, and reckless than the play-it-safe Lily, seems to have limitless freedom and opportunities that she can flirt away as she pleases. Lily, on the other hand, grows jealous of Kat’s enviable ability to dance around and drink until dawn while the rest of the world goes to work in the morning. Add a hunky artist guy (How to Get Away with Murder’s Jack Falahee) to the equation—plus elements of attraction from both Lily and Kat—and the girls’ friendship undergoes a tumultuous strain over its last seven days. Friendships shouldn’t end like this one does, and viewers young and old will relate to the awkward difficulty of breaking free from a relationship that feels good even though it’s plainly bad for you.

Lily & Kat offers an admirable debut for Preysler with its lively young spirit. The heart of the film is strong and real, and Lily & Kat only really hits false notes when it inserts self-reflexive confessional moments to mark Lily’s growth. These scenes allow Lily to recount her feelings and vent her frustrations with Kat to an off-screen therapist. Lily, a budding fashion professional, sits poised in a brightly lit studio space in a strikingly chic red sweater and she answers the councillor’s questions with a theatrical playfulness. The scenes don’t quite work since the style and tone of the interludes trump the emotional payoff of Lily’s reflections. (One also spends most of their duration pondering the identity of the person who sits outside the frame and joins in the conversation.) The running thread isn’t really necessary, either, since Rothe does such a good job of conveying Lily’s growth over the course of the film.

Preysler and co-writer Megan Platts nicely let Lily wade into her coming of age by testing her first with Nick and then with Kat, and the evolving maturity of Rothe’s performance is most impressive. Rothe marvellously conveys the anxiety and uncertainty one feels in that ambiguously difficult period between the fun of one’s university years and the disappointing reality of real life. Murray (whom viewers will recognize from Game of Thrones) is bubbly and fun, bringing to life Kat’s frisky naïveté as Rothe’s Lily becomes older, wiser, and more mature towards the film’s end. The two leads have a sparkling energy and are very fun and believable as the two friends reaching their heights. 

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Lily & Kat screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, Feb, 14 at 9:00 pm
Please visit www.tiff.net/nextwave for more information on this year’s festival.