Queen City

Dandelion

by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Nicole Riegel returns to her Southern Ohio roots, but Dandelion delivers a decidedly more lyrical look at the Buckeye state than her remarkable 2021 indie breakout, Holler.

Kiki Layne is Dandelion, a frustrated musician playing to disinterested crowds at a hotel bar in Cincinnati. Confronted by the reality of her shelf life, she heads to a biker rally in North Dakota for an audition to open for a major touring act.  The audition goes terribly, but she meets Casey (Gossip Girl’s Thomas Doherty), who rekindles her dying flame of creativity—among other things.

The film plays a bit like an American version of John Carney’s Once. Loosely plotted around songwriting sessions and picturesque sightseeing, Dandelion delivers more harmony than melody, but that’s often OK. When the script weakens—a convenient stretch of dialog, a predictable turn of the plot—cinematographer Lauren Guiteras’s camera, Layne and Doherty’s performances and the music itself strengthens.

Doherty’s all vulnerability and tenderness. Layne—in easily her best role since If Beale Street Could Talk—finds a way to hold anger, resignation, hope and joy in the same moment.

Riegel’s depiction of intimacy, in the core relationship as well as the act of creation, is tactile: fingertips, chords, a rock’s surface, veins throbbing in a throat. There’s real poetry in the direction, in the way voiceover conversation floats around landscapes and sunsets, Black Hills and backroads.

The live music is as infectious as the romance, although neither is really the point. Dandelion is a character study at heart, and Layne more than delivers on that promise. But Riegel does get a little bogged down with the beauty and atmosphere—as lovely as the film is, at a full two hours, some of the poetic meandering feels like filler.

It’s interesting to see Riegel take such a sharp turn from the grim authenticity of Holler to the poetic beauty of Dandelion, but there is a common thread of fighting to find and keep yourself that gives both films focus and life.

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