Nothing denotes the Wild West more than the thought of navigating the time between high school and graduating college. Discovering yourself during this time period is as overwhelming as mapping the Colorado River in the 1870’s—it’s turbulent, confusing, and dangerous.
Writer and director Jessica Ellis takes us along a comedic journey with Nicolette Kaye Ellis as Nicolette, a new college grad who’s been used and dumped by a boyfriend and finds herself living at home for the summer with no job and no prospects. Nicolette, reminded continuously as to how difficult it is to return home after college, finds herself accepting a position to “babysit” Chloe (Chloe Moore), the daughter of a frenzied, neurotic mother. In this unusual set of circumstances, both girls find in one another the strength and knowledge the other needs to move forward in life, both literally and figuratively.
Nicolette’s introduction to the obstinate teenaged recluse named Chloe reminds us of the chasm that separates one age group from the other. Chloe, protected from the visible and the invisible dangers lurking around every corner, feels smothered. Longing for independence, rebelling against her mother isn’t quite right. Chloe loves her mom and is compassionate about her insecurities and difficulties as of late, particularly her divorce. But a girl can only take so much and this precociously manipulative and sharp-tongued girl sees the world from a clearer vantage point. It’s one that will help illuminate the path ahead for both she and Nicolette.
The pair let down their guard with one another, eventually and unequally, allowing Chloe to share with Nicolette her ultimate goal: to venture out of the house and hike to the ocean from her home in Santa Rosa. Little did Nicolette know that Chloe was training them both as they took walks, longer and longer each day, in the woods near their home. When Chloe shares with Nicolette her elaborately detailed plan, they both find that this could only do them both some good…or does it?
On the surface, “What Lies West” is a lighthearted romp through summer, taking a hike, and surviving till fall. However, pulling back the many layers, we see the difficulties of a typical life of a young girl who is bullied and another who doesn’t fit the mold of what she so desperately wants to become—an actress. The image in the mirror isn’t what she wants and trying to put a square peg in a round hole is senseless. Chloe’s wisdom helps push Nicolette outside the confines of her own box and see her value as she builds her confidence. Of course, Nicolette’s years of experiences, gives Chloe a sense of a light at the end of the tunnel. Things will get better with time. Their friendship, an unlikely one, beautifully develops amidst the upbeat tone and cheerful banter as they both change and grow. And the lessons they each learn are ones young women and girls can never hear enough.
Our two main characters, Nicolette and Chloe, are perfectly cast. Nicolette Ellis portrays Nicolette as an effervescent young woman who hides beneath her chipper exterior and Moore shares with us a brooding teen, starving to explore the world. In many ways, these polar opposite characters are more similar than different and the actresses balance one another with absolute precision. Nicolette Ellis’ strength in this character makes the viewer feel that perhaps these are familiar issues with which she copes, making it a natural performance. Moore, equally believable, gives us an incredibly powerful and authentic performance. Her delivery of writer Ellis’ dialogue is sharp, succinct, and smart. I am confident that this isn’t the last time we see this young woman’s name in the acting credits of a film.
“What Lies West” is a heartfelt exploration of friendships and their importance as two young women look ahead in life, leaning on one another to grow and learn. Director Ellis captures the beauty of life at these stages in all its awkward glory as the butterfly emerges.
To see “What Lies West,” go to WHAT LIES WEST