The short (approximately 13 minutes) drama concerns two sisters, one estranged, who attend the last days of their dying father, a famous cinematographer. Cissy (Kain) has spent the last few years caring for the sick man, whereas Maureen (Spoke) "flew the coop". The film begins when Maureen returns home. The intimate conversation between the two women concerns their rocky relationship with the abusive,"vigorous" father, who obviously cared more about his work and needs than about their welfare throughout their young lives.
Cissy has resigned herself to being his caretaker, looking forward to his demise, whereas Maureen puts off the moment when she must go in and see her father for the first time in years - not knowing whether he will remember her, and afraid of where her own negative reactions may lead. Cissy tells her that he has often mistaken her for Maureen, so he has not forgotten, at least her name. A minor consolation.
The plot is somewhat suggestive of Marvin's Room, where two sisters are reunited reluctantly with a sick father in the next room, but there is much less complication in Leading Ladies. The plot concerns itself solely with the relationship of each daughter to the father, as there is no real strain between the siblings. Each admires the other: Maureen praises Cissy for staying and Cissy, Maureen for getting out.
The dialogue is totally real and centered, as are the two siblings. The father's voice is heard once from his bedroom, obviously in need of attention to which Cissy responds, leaving Maureen to mull over old family photos. Spoke and Kain are both excellent and Marsh's direction of them extremely close-up, personal and absorbing. The set decor of the house is neat and clean, as is most of the conversation between the women. Maureen speaks briefly about her sexual life where she addresses dismissing an actor from her bed when she received Cissy's call about the father's worsening condition. The chief problem that exists here is that there is no conflict between the women. And since there is no friction between them, the principal focus becomes Maureen's fear of seeing the father. So the overall dramatic tension is slight, and thus there exists a lack of vitality. Not actor energy, but spark, which must fuel this quiet piece. With increased encouragement from Cissy Maureen finally agrees to go up to her father's room and slowly climbs the stairs. End of film. Where does it go from there? How do the sisters play out the final moments? And what about their mother? No mention is ever made of her. Perhaps the father was a single parent.
For a while it struck me that the two leading ladies were possibly playing a scene as actresses, and that there was a bigger picture, or film within a film, but nothing ever materialized to suggest that concept.
It is wise that Marsh has kept the plot simple, as this is a short, but some other element is needed to infuse and heighten the dramatic impact. And even if ends are not neatly tied up, that's OK too.
RECOMMENDED: The film's best feature is its deeply sensitive and quiet mood, which both actresses and director sustain smoothly from beginning to end. It is definitely also worth a view for the rich detail of Spoke's and Kain's depictions of Maureen and Cissy. Middle-aged people who have taken care of a dying parent will relate.
Rating: 3 and a half stars out of 5.