The dramatic centerpiece of “Year of the Fox” takes place in the palatial estate of Huxley Reid (Jake Weber), a physicist whose wealth has no end and seemingly has a house to match in Aspen when his daughter Ivy (Sarah Jeffery) can wander from one room to the next without ever repeating her path. Downstairs, there’s a good old fashioned New Year’s Eve celebration going on, with flutes of champagne passed out and jovial conversation, but when she’s led upstairs by a friend of her father’s (Balthazar Getty) who wants to dig into one of the hard liquor cabinets, she’s exposed to an entirely different crowd where all manners of vice are brazenly out in the open, albeit behind the closed doors dividing the second floor from the first and seemingly the uber-rich from the mere millionaires.
There are things that are eye-opening for Ivy during the debaucherous soiree regarding her own family, but it’s the wider view of the culture she’s grown up in as a whole that she can take in from the second floor that may be most troubling when the number of lines being crossed without concern is in her experience the most dangerous place one can be. It’s an acute dread that writer Eliza Flug and director Megan Griffiths find rooted in the very specific identity of the teenager who is caught between a number of different worlds in “Year of the Fox,” with the recent divorce of her parents and the trips she takes from Seattle where her mother Pauline (Jane Adams) to Colorado a natural extension of all the code switching she’s been doing her entire life as their adopted Black daughter who was never made to feel different within their household, but always did outside of it when traveling with the jetset crowd that surrounds Huxley.
With Griffiths, one of the rare American directors to consistently engage with issues of class since following Amy Seimetz as a waitress trying to make ends meet in her debut feature “The Off-Hours,” at the helm, “Year of the Fox” makes a meal out of all of the abstractions that Ivy faces as a teen, never having to worry about money yet knowing a life inside the carefree cocoon her father can provide is not ever going to be personally fulfilling and unsure of herself not only because she looks different from her peers but feeling like a stranger inside her own body when still emerging from puberty. When her parents have things of their own to work out following their separation, she can only really lean on her childhood friend Layla (Lexi Simonsen), who she will only see sporadically because of the divorce, and the lack of role models is both detrimental and dispiriting when Ivy so clearly wants to invest her energy somewhere. (The ice skating she grew up practicing in Aspen is not an option when a coach in Seattle suggests her body type makes her more suited for drill team.)
At first “Year of the Fox” appears as if it’s about Ivy’s empowerment, but as it wears on, it provocatively evolves into a consideration about power in general when those that have it act with impunity, leaving all others to grapple with the consequences. Flug and Griffiths see Ivy being relatively unmoved by the usual temptations such as sex and drugs offered in the penthouses that she starts to have access to, but that doesn’t mean she’s immune to the fallout from others’ overindulgence, not only having to make sense of things for herself but having to strain that mental calculus even further when feeling as if she has to protect those behaving badly. “Year of the Fox” can feel a bit unruly itself when it strays from the conventions of most coming-of-age narratives, but that’s all for the better when recognizing that in spite of the very particular circumstances for its lead, there’s rarely any easy answers for this time in one’s life and what unites everyone is figuring things out for themselves.
“Year of the Fox” will screen at the Seattle Film Festival on May 14th at the SIFF Cinema Uptown at noon.