Albany Road

Nell Minow

Five elements I love to see in movies come together in the touching and romantic “Albany Road.” First there is that oldest of all stories, going back to ancient times: the always-engaging storyline of a journey, especially one taken by people who begin as enemies and grow to respect and trust one another. Second, there is the theme of the struggle between our wish for true intimacy and our fear of being known. Third is the gathering of family members that results in formerly hidden truths coming to light, sometimes painful, but ultimately healing. Fourth, is stories about women that show us as having our own stories and interacting with each other. Fifth, and most rare, is the chance to see brilliant performers I have watched in supporting roles for years playing leads, giving us a chance to see all they have to offer.

I have loved Lynn Whitfield since I first saw her in the title role of 1991’s “The Josephine Baker Story.” She was as mesmerizing as the legend she portrayed. She is extraordinary in “Eve’s Bayou,” and in a three-episode arc on “How to Get Away With Murder.” Renee Elise Goldsberry, who thrilled audiences as Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton” on Broadway, has been memorable in small and ensemble roles on screen in “Waves,” “The House with the Clock on its Walls,” and, on television, “Girls 5eva,” and my favorite episode of “Documentary Now,” “Co-Op.” It is a great joy to see these extraordinary women as complex characters who experience a wide range of emotions throughout this film.

We first see Goldsberry as Celeste, a New York advertising executive who appears to be completely focused on her job. There is an upcoming presentation in Washington D.C. that will determine the future of her company. If she succeeds, she will become a full equity partner in the firm. If she fails to get the account, her company may go out of business. At the airport, Paula (Whitfield) is berating a luggage handler. When a snowstorm grounds all the planes, Celeste and Paula are stuck driving to DC together, and we gradually learn about their past. When Celeste was engaged to Paula’s son, Kyle (J. Alphonse Nicholson), Paula intervened, and the couple broke up. As they drive through the snow, their relationship thaws a little, from outright hostility to some sense of partnership in their mutual determination to reach their destination. But then the storm gets too bad, and they seek shelter in Pennsylvania with Paula’s cousin, Carol (a wonderfully warm performance by Lisa Arrindell) and her husband, Billy (Joe Holt). Kyle and his fiancée, Morgan (Rachel Nicks) happen to be visiting, and other arrivals bring more complications and more revelations. Each member of the cast has an opportunity to create a vivid, heartfelt character who contributes to the story.

Writer/Director Christine Swanson showed her deep understanding of women’s stories in her “Clark Sisters” film, with a sizzling performance by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, continues to show her skill with actors. She says, “’Albany Road’ is an unapologetic, ironic presentation of Black joy, Black resilience, and Black humanity.” That does not mean that these characters do not feel loss, fear, and pain. It means that they try to embrace rather than endure all that comes from being human, finding that loss can bring connection, fear can bring compassion, and pain can bring healing.