Piers Marchant reports from Sundance, Day Three

January 28, 2015

By Piers Marchant for blood, dirt &angels

Number of Films: 3
General Vibe: Hollowed out (see James White, below)

The Overnight: So much comedy has already been mined about thirtysomething couples suddenly finding themselves saddled with kids and/or adulthood and (too) desperately wanting to stay hip and relevant —from just this past year, choose from the lame Neighbors or the vastly superior While We’re Young — to the point where the gig is getting pretty played out. So writer/director Patrick Brice’s fast-paced comedy comes with a certain amount of skepticism attached. His young-ish couple — played charmingly by Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling — have moved to L.A. from Seattle recently and are still in that dreary stage of relocation when you realize you have to start over making friends. At the park one morning, they are discovered by a free-spirited father (Jason Schwartzman), who takes to them immediately and invites them and their small son to come over to their house that night for dinner. What ensues goes far beyond the standard set up of squares-meet-bohemians joint — involving butthole paintings, dance parties, Thai massage parlors, and numerous penile prosthetics — that makes for a generally winning madcap formula. True, the ending leaves us about nowhere, but the rest of the film is pleasingly shaggy and often surprising, which is more than can be said about the majority of the mini-genre from which it spawns.

James White: When Christopher Abbot left Girls in a seeming huff about the triviality of his character a couple of years ago, most of us shrugged and assumed he was just another kid who was too late to recognize what kind of a break he had just gotten, that is if we thought about him much at all. Turns out, he was absolutely right to leave the show and move on to more serious work. He stars in this devastating film from writer/director Josh Mond, the titular character, a well-meaning, but hugely

Photo from James White, courtesy BorderLine Films

Photo from James White, courtesy BorderLine Films

irresponsible young man who has a knack for making the wrong calls and forcing everyone around him to live with his bad decisions. This is especially true of his long-suffering but loving mom, played by Cynthia Nixon, whose been sick with cancer. When the disease comes back with a vengeance, it forces James to face the world a little more head-on, but not without it exacting a pretty horrific toll on him. Quick tempered and hugely impulsive, he has no place to put his anguish except upon everything else around him. For those of us who have lost a parent, the film’s unrelenting intimacy is very nearly unendurable, but I have nothing but mad respect for a filmmaker who can look into that particular abyss so unflinchingly. This is a monster of a film, and the announcement of a phenomenal young actor, suddenly proving his earlier career choices were more than justified.

Strangerland: A dutiful Aussie drama about an emotionally estranged married couple (Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes), whose teen kids vanish one night out in the desert, and the ensuing manhunt to try and find them before they die from dehydration. The story has its twists and turns — some of which concerning the officer (Hugo Weaving) in charge of the investigation — and director Kim Farrant uses well the spectacular orange-hued sand and ravines of the South Wales locations the film uses as its backdrop — but by the third act, things start to go seriously off the rails, as the parents’ personas melt under the pressure. About every possible combination of sexual advance is made by Kidman’s character, to almost literally every significant male in the film, while Fiennes’ damaged husband goes on rampages threatening everyone he sees into returning his sexpot daughter back to him. The hardest part of such a film is finding things for the characters to do in response to their grief that feels believable and justified (again, see James White, above). This film does not manage to pull that trick, nor does it really earn its obvious po-mo ending. You almost don’t have to see it to know exactly what shot it will end on and why.

Tomorrow: Should be another rewarding day with Princess, Slow West, Mississippi Grind, and Noah Baumbach’s new new film, Mistress America.

Into the frigid climes and rarefied thin air of the spectacular Utah Mountains, I’ve arrived in order to document some of the sense and senselessness of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Over the next week, armed with little more than a heavy parka and a bevy of blank reporter’s notebooks, I’ll endeavor to watch as many movies as I can and report my findings.

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