A tragic tabloid curiosity becomes an absorbing, empathetic elegy.
DIRECTED BY CAROL MORLEY (UK, Ireland, Special Presentations)
Wednesday, May 2, 9:45 p.m.
Royal Cinema (608 College Street)
Friday, May 4, 9:15 p.m.
Isbael Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
In December of 2003, sitting in front of her TV and surrounded by the Christmas presents she’d recently wrapped, Joyce Vincent passed away. The fact of her death—ostensibly from natural causes—would remain undiscovered for a further two years, until housing association officials executed a repossession order on her London flat. Had she been an 83-year-old, the circumstances of her lonely demise would be fathomable, if scarcely less lamentable. But Joyce was just 38.
Subtly exploring themes of alienation, ambition, race, and self-presentation, Carol Morley’s poignant docudrama ponders the question posed by everyone who learns of Joyce’s astonishing fate: How could it be that this woman—by all accounts friendly, fetching, and free of significant vices—died without anyone so much as taking notice, let alone seeming to care?
Tellingly, Joyce’s surviving family members declined to appear, leaving Morley to piece together her subject’s past via interviews with former flatmates, colleagues, and significant others. Their warm, occasionally contradictory recollections establish Joyce as vivacious and well-liked, but also rootless, and something of a social chameleon. She is also known to have struggled with an abusive relationship that almost certainly contributed to her ultimate isolation.
Rather than a meticulous factual reconstruction, Dreams of a Life synthesizes the available information into an impressionistic portrait, accented by speculative vignettes. These are the titular reveries, which attempt to reconcile the Joyce her friends remember—a gregarious aspiring singer—with the tragic tabloid curiosity she became.
They perhaps don’t fully succeed, but Morley’s compassionate elegy is nonetheless absorbing, affecting, and deeply thought-provoking.