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KiKi Layne is a jewel in director Nicole Riegel's sophomore feature Dandelion.

Writer and director Nicole Riegel has teamed up with the very talented KiKi Layne and Thomas Doherty for her second feature film, "Dandelion," which is being released by IFC Films. The movie is a musical love story that follows our titular main character, portrayed by Layne, a struggling singer-songwriter from Cincinnati who is struggling. She is stuck in a dead-end waitressing job where she performs her music at open mics and cares for her ailing mother, Jean (played by Melanie Nicholls-King).

Dandelion, driven by a longing for a more fulfilling existence, seizes her final chance for change at a vibrant motorcycle rally in South Dakota. There, she crosses paths with Casey, portrayed by Thomas Doherty, a talented guitarist who had long abandoned his aspirations. Embracing Casey's unconventional circle of aspiring musicians, Dandelion and Casey collaborate on their musical craft and embark on a passionate and profound romance. This transformative encounter propels Dandelion beyond her narrow view of success, guiding her toward a profound understanding of her artistic journey and revealing her unique and authentic voice.

I did not have the opportunity to view Ms. Riegel's inaugural directorial piece, "Holler," and thus opted to view "Dandelion" due to my admiration for Mrs. Layne, whose performance in 2018's "If Beale Street Could Talk" initially captivated me. Although Layne has consistently demonstrated her natural charisma in numerous films since then, "Dandelion" provides her with a genuine platform to showcase her acting talents.

In this film, not only does Layne sing, but she also imbues the protagonist with a sense of humanity in such an authentic manner that individuals who harbor dreams of entering the entertainment industry will assuredly find solace in her portrayal. Sometimes, there is a scene where Layne speaks with her eyes, and we, the audience, become engrossed in the emotions she is experiencing. Furthermore, Layne has a commendable singing voice. I was surprised by Layne's voice, and I sought some music from Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, who handled the soundtrack.

Although Thomas Doherty gained recognition for his roles in the film series The Descendants and the Gossip Girl reboot, I previously had little knowledge of the actor who portrayed Casey. Consequently, I took a particular interest in his character development. Riegel's script purposefully diverges from the conventional "A Star is Born" narrative. It is evident from the outset that Casey possesses talent and ignites Dandelion's creativity. Nevertheless, Casey acknowledges his failure as an artist, attributing it to his missteps.

Director Nicole Riegel loves film, and cinephiles will appreciate the ethics in the movie. Collaborating closely with her cinematographer, Lauren Guiteras, there are beautiful shots that take full vestment in the creative process of music. There are close-up shots of our two leads that represent their love of music and love story, which quickly put a smile on my face.

I do want to give viewers the heads-up that "Dandelion" has a deliberately slow pace, but as any creative will tell you, getting the final product just right is a process, and Director Nicole Riegel effortlessly achieves any filmmaking goal that she sets for her sophomore feature.

Final Grade: B+

DANDELION will be released in theaters on July 12, 2024


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