2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Stray Dolls’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Stray Dolls
Olivia DeJonge and Geetanjali Thapa in “Stray Dolls” (Photo by Shane Sigler)

“Stray Dolls”

Directed by Sonejuhi Sinha

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

The crime thriller “Stray Dolls” is described by director/co-writer Sonejuhi Sinha as a “love story,” but all the characters in the film aren’t very lovable. Most of the film takes place at the sleazy Tides Plaza Motel, which is in an unnamed city in the U.S., but it’s the kind of dump where a lot of people are either down on their luck and/or doing something bad. A young woman named Riz (played by Geetanjali Thapa) has recently arrived from India to work as a live-in maid at the motel. We find out that Riz has escaped from her street life in India, and wants a better life for herself in America, where she plans to send some money home to her family.

Riz tries to re-invent herself as a hard worker with a clean lifestyle, but it’s slowly revealed that when Riz was in India, she has done illegal things, such as con games and robbery, in order to survive. Having a past life as a street hustler makes it all the more unbelievable that Riz would give her passport for safekeeping to her new boss Una (played by Cynthia Nixon), a no-nonsense Russian who is the motel’s manager. In the beginning of the film, Una is seen shredding the passport, which will have dire consequences for Riz later on in the movie.

Soon after arriving at the motel, Riz finds out that she has to share living quarters with a fellow maid named Dallas (played by Olivia DeJonge), who’s strung out on meth, obsessed with Dolly Parton, and trying to make enough money to open her own nail salon. Dallas’ dimwitted boyfriend Jimmy (played by Robert Aramayo) is also her drug dealer, and he also happens to be Una’s son.

Riz and Dallas get off on the wrong foot when Riz catches Dallas trying to steal from her, and the two get into a fight that leaves Riz feeling threatened. Riz continues to put on a façade of being a “good girl”—she refuses to drink alcohol or do drugs when hanging out with Dallas. But one night, when they’re at a restaurant, Dallas slips a painkiller drug into Riz’s milkshake while Riz is in the ladies’ restroom. Under the influence of the drug, Riz’s inhibitions are lowered, and she spends the rest of the night partying with Dallas and her druggie friends. When Riz and Dallas go back to their room at the motel, Riz asks Dallas to kiss her, which foreshadows the sexual attraction that is underneath later motivations in the film.

While cleaning a motel room when the room’s guest is away, Riz finds a hidden package of cocaine, impulsively steals it, and then gives the package to Dallas, in an effort to impress Dallas and with the hope that Dallas doesn’t pick a fight with her again. It’s one of many dumb and unnecessary decisions that the supposedly streetwise Riz makes in this film. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that things don’t turn out well for anyone who steals from a drug dealer.

But the movie’s plot really goes off the rails when Riz commits a serious crime twice, and what she does to cover up her misdeeds would make her a candidate for “World’s Dumbest Criminals.” The first time she commits the crime, it’s somewhat of an accident. The second time she commits the crime, it’s completely unwarranted and planned in such a cold-blooded manner that any sympathy that anyone might have for Riz will probably evaporate. The last 15 minutes of the movie have so many absurd things happening (including a ludicrous attempt to frame Riz and Dallas as “Thelma and Louise” type of outlaws) that “Stray Dolls” should have been named “Stray Plot Holes.”

UPDATE: Samuel Goldwyn Films will release “Stray Dolls” on April 10, 2020.