Possibly it was due to hybrid nature of this yr’s Sundance Film Festival, which wraps up Sunday, that I used to be drawn to movies featuring dual personalities and secret lives.
For the third yr running, the annual independent film showcase in Utah had its offerings available online to journalists in every single place and, starting in its second half, to public audiences within the U.S. However the post-pandemic fest also returned to in-person screenings on the Park City ski town that Sundance founder Robert Redford became a movie lover’s destination.
FOMO was my constant companion as I screened the festival’s diverse offerings within the comfort of the Moon Cave Cinema, the name I give my basement home theatre. I didn’t miss Park City’s snowy, slushy streets, but I did yearn to be back amongst my fellow film buffs at Sundance.
I felt of two minds, as do most of the protagonists in my personal Top 10 list of Sundance favourites:
There are shades of Patricia Highsmith novels and Hitchcock movies on this icy suspenser by William Oldroyd (“Lady Macbeth”), set in Sixties Massachusetts in a town where the penitentiary is probably the most exciting place. Thomasin McKenzie’s meek title character toils there as a secretary, attempting to forget her awful home life caring for her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father (Shea Whigham). Enter Anne Hathaway’s blond Rebecca, a Harvard-trained psychologist with agency, attitude and possibly an agenda. She befriends Eileen, who’s looking forward to attention and Rebecca’s approval. Here’s where things begin to get really interesting. McKenzie and Hathaway are superb as women subverting the prison of expectations — especially the viewer’s.
The cool thing about Raine Allen Miller’s South London charmer is the way it sends up rom-com tropes — would you think a meet-cute in adjoining unisex toilet stalls? — while also celebrating them. There are affectionate nods to such date movie favourites as “Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones,” including an amusing star cameo. Yet the very best thing about “Rye Lane” is the delightful pairing of David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah, whose random-encounter characters Dom and Yas go together like rye and ginger as they got down to right the wrongs of their previous relationships. The film is alive to the sights and sounds of London, which becomes a personality unto itself. Bonus: the very best rom-com karaoke scene ever.
The Longest Goodbye
For those of us who aren’t rocket scientists, it’s easy to assume that the most important hurdle to sending people to Mars is vehicle propulsion. Ido Mizrahy’s riveting documentary, a Canada/Israel co-production, suggests the actual issue is isolation: How will humans handle being locked inside a van-sized spacecraft, cut off from family and friends, for a three-year return journey? We meet Al Holland, a NASA psychologist tasked with solving loneliness. He employs coping techniques he contributed to the 2010 effort to rescue 33 Chilean miners, who were trapped underground for 69 days. We learn that future Mars travellers, as soon as a decade from now, may be put into hibernation before space travel and/or have AI companions to fly with.
A stronger term than “sharks” is required for the company and courtship savagery in Chloe Domont’s arresting feature debut. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich are sensible as lovers and associates willing to slash Cupid’s throat for profession advancement. All of it starts sweetly enough: Dynevor’s Emily and Ehrenreich’s Luke, aflame with ardour and lust, resolve to get secretly engaged, despite the no-office-romances rule of the cutthroat Recent York trust fund they each work at. Then Emily gets a promotion that Luke thought he deserved — she actually becomes his boss — and their ruse of platonic collegiality starts to unravel. British character actor Eddie Marsan viciously ups the ante because the fund’s overlord.
You Hurt My Feelings
Sundance veteran Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) makes a welcome return to the fest with a barbed comedy about human failings and the equally human tendency to not be truthful about them. Julia Louis-Dreyfus leads a terrific ensemble solid of neurotic Recent Yorkers as Beth, a author and professor whose serene life together with her therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is about to shatter. Beth’s recent memoir didn’t sell — if only there had been more family trauma! — and she or he’s having trouble getting her first novel published. She’s comforted by knowing she will count on Don for unfailing support, until she overhears him mildly dissing her work. An accidental truth snowballs right into a mountain of antic excuses and dodges.
A cautionary and viral Recent Yorker story about dating in #MeToo times is delivered to life and made all of the more creepy on this whip-smart adaptation by “Booksmart” screenwriter Susanna Fogel. Emilia Jones (“CODA”) and Nicholas Braun (TV’s “Succession”) are the younger and jaded Margot and the older and nerdy Robert. They’re a decade or more apart in age and maturity (he lives for “Star Wars” movies and toys), but they bond over texts and move on to sex, which is great for him but not for her. Margot is reluctant to bail whilst her maniac radar starts to ping because the film goes a final act further than the unique tale. Sure to prompt many bad-date memories and post-screening debates, “Cat Person” adroitly balances goofy and scary, with possibly the worst screen kiss ever.
Jonathan Majors as a lonely bodybuilder in Elijah Bynum’s tightly wound drama, raging against flesh and failure, summons obvious comparisons to “Taxi Driver” and “Joker.” But this could be very much its own beast, jerking us into the jumbled mindscape of why a steroidal obsessive would risk serious injury or death to pursue the dream of magazine-cover flexing. Majors played a mellow cat in Sundance 2019 hit “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” but he’s a twitching muscle of ferocity here, alternately pitiable and terrifying as he fumbles at finding love and acceptance in a world that regards him as a freak. Majors is an actor of great range; I didn’t see a greater performance at Sundance ’23.
The Persian Version
Maryam Keshavarz’s semi-autobiographical dramedy a few large Iranian-American immigrant family pinballs across a long time and countries, not all the time to its profit. But there’s no denying the charm of this brood, a Recent York family of eight older sons and one daughter. The latter is Leila, played as an adult by Layla Mohammadi, who also serves because the film’s narrator and the director’s alter ego. She’s the steadily amusing focus because the story shifts to disclose not only why the family left Iran but in addition the explanation for tensions between the queer-identifying Leila and her strict but resourceful mother, Shirin (Niousha Noor). The film is a vibrant blur of characters and incidents that by some means resolves right into a satisfying dance of life, set to the improbable soundtrack rouser “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Toronto’s Brandon Cronenberg (“Possessor”) delivers the shivers, and greater than a number of WTF moments, with a vacation inferno creeper that gnaws on the mind. It’s set in a luxury resort in a fictional fascist Eastern European country (it was filmed in Croatia and Hungary), where callous wealthy people party behind guarded gates while the hungry poor seethe outside. A calamitous encounter between the 2 groups lands Alexander Skarsgard’s shallow protagonist, blocked author James, right into a nightmare sci-fi realm of clones and consequences, where money can free your chains but not your conscience. Mia Goth’s mysterious Gabi steals the show as a psychedelic seductress who knows greater than she tells.
Little Richard: I Am Every part
He taught Paul McCartney how you can scream, Mick Jagger how you can strut and heard Elvis Presley declare him the actual King of Rock, yet Nineteen Fifties pop pioneer Little Richard was ultimately overshadowed by his imitators. Lisa Cortés delivers the definitive documentary on an advanced icon, a person of bisexual passions and partners, who praised God yet couldn’t stop singing the “devil’s music” of censor-baiting songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” He was tragically considered almost a novelty act on the time of his death at 87 in 2020, but this engaging doc goes a good distance toward justifying the person’s famous boast: “I’m the originator. I’m the emancipator. I’m the architect of rock ’n’ roll.”