Michelle Pfeiffer plays a middle-age woman tumbling into poverty in “Where is Kyra?” (Great Point Media-Paladin)

Michelle Pfeiffer plays a middle-age woman tumbling into poverty in “Where is Kyra?” (Great Point Media-Paladin)

‘Where is Kyra?’: Michelle Pfeiffer returns in strong character role

The icon of 1980s and ’90s films excels as a middle-age woman sinking into poverty.

If you look at her filmography, Michelle Pfeiffer has been occasionally working in the last 15 years. So why does it seem like she’s been away?

Maybe because nothing could match Pfeiffer’s in-demand decades of the 1980s and ‘90s. From “Scarface” in 1983 to, say, “What Lies Beneath” in 2000, she enjoyed a busy run of high-profile lead roles, including some classics (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Age of Innocence,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys”). She even played Catwoman.

In recent years, Pfeiffer’s been a furtive presence. The last few months have seen a modest comeback, with crisp supporting turns in “Murder on the Orient Express” and “mother!”

Last week she popped up in news stories because the moderator of a “Scarface” tribute panel asked her how much she weighed when she made the film — the audience, understandably, booed. (He didn’t ask Al Pacino the same question.) Welcome back to the limelight, I suppose.

In “Where Is Kyra?,” Pfeiffer does nicely with her biggest role in years, albeit in a very small-scaled movie. She plays the title part, a divorced, out-of-work woman who must face brittle realities when her mother (Suzanne Shepherd), whom she’s been caretaking, suddenly dies.

At first, Kyra’s rounds appear ordinary. She deals with her mother’s Brooklyn apartment and scrambles to find work.

A chance meeting with another tenant (Kiefer Sutherland, in sympathetic form) leads to a tentative relationship. But Kyra’s got a secret.

Director Andrew Dosunmu’s style, drenched in dark, moody compositions, suggests something heavy is going on. He and gifted cinematographer Bradford Young (of the atmosphere-heavy “Arrival”) make every shot look like a burnished painting. It’s a fitting approach for a character who becomes increasingly weighed down by circumstances.

“Where Is Kyra?” isn’t so much about Kyra’s fling with criminal behavior as it is about a world in which a decent person can fall from safety to destitution in just a few weeks’ time. Kyra’s behavior stems from her panic about scraping together enough money to get through the week — not because she’s bad, but because things have gone badly.

The film doesn’t always click, but Pfeiffer is up to the challenge of animating this outcast — at various times we see Kyra’s face in unsparing close-up, and Pfeiffer lets the exhaustion and desperation show through. This performance bodes well for an entirely new phase of a former superstar’s career.

‘Where Is Kyra?’ (3 stars)

Michelle Pfeiffer does a strong starring turn as a divorced woman whose life goes into a tailspin after her mother dies. The movie is about how short a distance lies between getting by and being destitute, and Pfeiffer delivers an unsparing character study. With Kiefer Sutherland.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for nudity, subject matter

Opening: SIFF Film Center

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