Film, Film Review, Sundance

Sundance Film Festival 2022: Dispatch, Part One

Women in horror open this year's festival

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Welcome back to Sundance from my sunny, spacious living room. The lineup this year seems to be skewing towards the weird, which I always welcome. As with last year, I hope you take my reviews with a grain of salt. Watching five movies a day turns the brain to soup, and I am sure my opinions on these will shift over time. I just want to provide some general reactions and give a heads up if there’s something particularly interesting. But as always, you must remain wary of any actor’s directorial debuts. Speaking of, let’s get started!

When You Finish Saving the World (dir. Jesse Eisenberg)

The festival began with the directorial debut of Zombieland actor Jesse Eisenberg, a tale of mother and son discovering the limits of their altruism. Now that I’m doing the research, it seems Mr. Eisenberg adapted his own Audible original drama, which is… it’s fine, it’s just funny where things come from these days. Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard are good in the roles, but the roles call for being as aggravating and selfish as possible. Moore’s character tries replacing her son with a boy living in her domestic violence shelter while Wolfhard tries to be “woke” for a pretty girl in his class. Eisenberg is going for a Squid and the Whale vibe, but he can’t quite find the balance of venom and heart the best cringe comedies can do. The film benefits from a brief runtime, but it ends on basically nothing, a shrug. Not everyone can do what Noah Baumbach does. Half the time not even Baumbach can. (C)

A Love Song (dir. Max Walker-Silverman)

Scholars of Debra Granik’s filmography and the dearly departed NBC sitcom My Name is Earl know that Dale Dickey is one of our finest screen actors. Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature provides Dickey with a Nomadland all her own, on an even smaller scale. Faye (Dickey), recently widowed, lives alone in a camper somewhere in the wide wilderness of Colorado. A childhood friend (Wes Studi) re-enters her life after a similar loss, hoping to reconnect. The pair share a few laughs and some ice cream, leaving much unspoken. A Love Song is a truly tender debut with some great visuals (shot on 16mm, seems like). There may be no better cinematic pairing than a Colorado sunset and Dale Dickey’s face. (B)

Happening (dir. Audrey Diwan)

The 2021 Golden Lion winner finally makes its stateside debut. A young woman in 1960s France discovers she is pregnant and knows this will ruin her life. Abortion is still illegal and punishable by imprisonment, so Anna (Anamaria Vartolomei) must take matters into her own hands. With pregnancy as a ticking clock, the film is quiet but intense with a shockingly visceral climax. Vartolomei has the most stunningly blue eyes I’ve ever seen, huge and determined. In lesser hands, Happening could have been far too maudlin. Fortunately general audiences won’t have to wait much longer, as IFC has set a May 6th release date. (B)

Master dir. Mariama Diallo

What is it about college that causes filmmakers to stuff in every topic under the sun? From Higher Learning to Scream 2, a college set drama can’t be about just one thing. It has to be about everything. Master combines ghost stories, bullying, administrative drama, racism, mistaken identity (ask me more if you want spoilers…), and the Amish. While Regina Hall wears some lovely turtlenecks and the performance from newcomer Zoe Renee is appropriately heartbreaking, Master is too heavy handed to land how it wants to land, especially with a late game dramatic twist. The marketing will make or break audience response; those expecting something gruesome are bound to be disappointed. Perhaps it will grow on me, but for now I’m having trouble connecting all the threads. (C+)

Watcher dir. Chloe Okuno

Moving to a new country is disorienting enough, but if your neighbor Burn Gorman is potentially stalking you, waiting to pounce? What’s a girl to do, especially if her husband doesn’t believe her? Maika Monroe stars as a woman isolated in this tale of gaslighting and paranoia set in a dreary apartment complex in Romania. Of course the star of It Follows has no trouble leading a film where she is mostly alone, scared of something she can’t quite see. Watcher is a slow burn, and perhaps there could have been more going on in the middle, but the bloody climax is worth the hour or so preceding it.  (B-)

See you soon with more reviews and maybe some interviews if my emails don’t get ignored!

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