Forced from their home in one of New York’s abandoned subway tunnels, a 5-year-old girl and her troubled mother struggle to find a safe place “up top.” Thirty minutes into the gut-wrenching Topside, the child at the drama’s center experiences a sensory assault: the unaccustomed brightness of streetlamps, the cacophony of crowds, a supermarket’s fluorescent glare. She wants to hide from it all, and so might the viewer — that’s how intimately the film’s writer-directors have bound us to the experiences of the character called Little, who has been living in the subterranean gloom deep below Manhattan. Kinetic and riveting, the story unfurls from her point of view. Unlike many 5-year-old screen characters, Little is not conspicuously precocious or hyper-verbal. But she is exceedingly alert, moving through dreamscapes and nightmarish realities with a preternatural watchfulness. Zhaila Farmer is the exceptional newcomer inhabiting the center of this maelstrom, and the sensitive direction of Celine Held and Logan George, at the helm of their first feature, is crucial to making her story as affecting as it is. Held — who also works onscreen, delivering a harrowing performance as Little’s heroin-addicted mother — and George have made documentary shorts exploring the experience of… Read full this story
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