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Sundance: Zooey Deschanel, Patton Oswalt, and the rise of the anti-'Hotel for Dogs' lobby

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Whatever laid-back vibe the EW Loft may have possessed on Sunday morning quickly dissipated in the bright afternoon sun as the celebrity entourage fustercluck took over, creating the kinds of bottlenecks this festival is known for. Ashton Kutcher and Michele Trachtenberg had a jokey conversation while a pregnant Anne Heche signed a skateboard for charity. Friday Night Lights star Zach Gilford raved about his Dare cohort Alan Cumming as Sandra Bernhardt squeezed out the door. Joseph Gordon-Levitt interrupted an interview to squeal, “Oh my goodness! Gimme one second and I’m gonna jump all over you!” to an arriving Mo’Nique, then introduced her to his 500 Days of Summer partner Zooey Deschanel as “the sweetest thing ever.” When later asked how she and Gordon-Levitt knew one another, Mo’Nique deadpanned, “He’s the father of my first child.” (The two actually worked together on 2005’s Shadowboxer.)

Large casts traveled in packs, like the cheery stars of The Vicious Kind, a Spectrum film that 25 year old director Lee Krieger called “a twisted love tale about an American family,” and whose actors seemed to enjoy cracking on their youthful boss. “He cried a couple times,” smiled Brittany Snow, before her costar Adam Scott took over the joke: “Every morning, it was like, ‘Adam, what do you think I should do with this scene? Can I borrow some money? How does this camera turn on?’ I mean, it was constant. It was a pain in the ass.” But they also applauded the film’s serious side, and its place at Sundance. “I think people that have a passion for filmmaking aren’t going to make Hotel for Dogs,” said Scott. “They’re gonna make something that comes from their heart, and their gut. Which we need, I think. Nothing against Hotel for Dogs, it’s a terrific movie. I’ve seen it a couple times. But you’re not going to see that at Sundance any time soon.”

It was also a day when several casts arrived for interviews before their films had screened more than once, which generated confusion: When asked about his character in Spread, listed in the festival brochure as a “male gigolo,” Ashton Kutcher was quick to call that description an oversimplification. “You never want to judge your character,” he said. (Overheard on the shuttle bus to Main Street Sunday night: “I just saw the Ashton Kutcher gigolo movie.”) Patton Oswalt, who plays a New York Giants obsessive in Big Fan, didn’t judge his character, either. “I don’t follow sports,” he said. “But I guess it says something about the script that even though I don’t understand sports, I totally understood every single motivation this guy had, because I apply them to movies, and to politics, and to comic books. It’s the same spark, just different fuel.”

And then there was the cast of Adam, who faced the daunting task of promoting a movie shot over a year ago that they hadn’t seen at all. While Rose Byrne adorably struggled to remember much of anything but freezing in Central Park, her costar Hugh Dancy called the brochure copy for their movie “very successful.” “We’re learning now that the challenge of talking about it is the same set of challenges we had in making the film,” he continued. “It walks a very fine line between what you might call a serious issue — I’m playing a character with Asperger’s– and the fact that the movie is very light in tone and sweet and romantic and comic. But it doesn’t add up to a three-word summary.”

Hotel for Dogs jokes popped up again with the cast of Against the Current — in which Joseph Fiennes plays a man who decides to swim the length of the Hudson River — as actor Justin Kirk suggested their film should open on as many screens as the puppies got. Between mouthfuls of sandwich, Kirk also joked about his absent costar’s commitment to the role. “Joseph Fiennes, such a method actor,” he said. “We’d all go home to our hotels, and he’d swim to the next location.” The Current cast — including Trachtenberg and Elizabeth Reaser — were all Sundance vets, leaving their quiet director, Peter Callahan, as the lone festival virgin in the crew. When asked if they’d hazed him at all, Trachtenberg astutely observed, “I think the experience itself is almost hazing.”

Late afternoon welcomed the casts of two of the festival’s biggest successes so far: Mo’Nique and her Push costars Paula Patton and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe — so animated, passionate, and touching in their discussion that they’ll receive their own post later — and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel, promoting their “contemplative” romantic comedy, 500 Days of Summer. “It’s respectful of the tradition of the Hollywood love story because it’s partially about the misconceptions that can form when you too simplistically buy into such stereotypes,” explained Gordon-Levitt. “It’s my favorite kind of comedy. It’s not making you laugh because of some goofy gag or witty remark, but because you see it and you’re like, ‘Aw, I know how that feels.'”

Deschanel, now in her billionth trip to Park City, was also enjoying the chance to turn the tables on her Yes Man buddy Jim Carrey, in town for his first time with the gay prisoner romance I Love You Phillip Morris. “He’s all psyched, and I’m like, for once in my friendship with Jim Carrey I feel like I’m the seasoned professional, and he’s the new golden retriever puppy.” Her experience on the streets of Park City is indeed admirable, especially her dedication to the avoidance of swag — mostly. “I’m not taking anything this year,” she said, with a great deal of conviction. “I mean, that’s my goal. Unless somebody comes up with something I really want.” She laughed, then dropped the best possible analogy for handling the style suites: “It’s like being a healthy person. Every once in a while you might have a cookie. But if you can not have cookies all the time, you’re doing pretty well.”

An even more seasoned Sundance professional eventually arrived in the form of Peter Gallagher, here promoting Adam and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of original Sundance breakout sex, lies, and videotape. In hearing Gallagher’s memories, that long-ago festival could not seem more distant from the celebutard follies of today: “I got to the screening room — which felt like an elaborate church basement or annex or something — and [director] Steven [Soderbergh] was waiting there, and had a driver’s cap on,” Gallagher recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve been taking people back and forth to the airport.’ And then he presented the film. And I remember these industry people in front of us were like, ‘Oh, this sweet kid. It’s a sweet little festival, it’s nice, it’s skiing…” and by the end of the movie, they were….” Here, Gallagher put on a gobsmacked face. Then he concluded, “That’s one of the greatest experiences you can have in life as an actor: to contribute to a story that has a place in the world you live in.”

His sentiment was perhaps writ clearest by the cast of Amreeka, which includes Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat. Loosely based on director Cherien Dabis’ childhood as a Palestinian growing up in America during the Gulf War, the film tells the story of a single mom with an advanced education who moves with her young son from the checkpoints and dangers of the West Bank to Illinois, only to wind up working at a White Castle. (Read Lisa Schwartzbaum’s thoughts on the movie here.) Given the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip over the past 20 days, Dabis’s work has taken on new resonance, not just for audiences, but its creative team as well. “It’s so hard, and it’s bad news that we are hearing,” said lead actress Nisreen Faour, herself a Palestinian native. “For example, today, they said it’s been 1,300 people killed over the 20 days. So I believe that me as an an artist, I have to find a way to tell our story. I can’t do anything about that [conflict], because there’s nothing to do. There’s no end. But spreading our story, and our humanity, and our dreams, this is a way I believe it will help.”

It was also a day when several casts arrived for interviews before their films had screened more than once, which generated confusion: When asked about his character in Spread, listed in the festival brochure as a “male gigolo,” Ashton Kutcher was quick to call that description an oversimplification. “You never want to judge your character,” he said. (Overheard on the shuttle bus to Main Street Sunday night: “I just saw the Ashton Kutcher gigolo movie.”) Patton Oswalt, who plays a New York Giants obsessive in Big Fan, didn’t judge his character, either. “I don’t follow sports,” he said. “But I guess it says something about the script that even though I don’t understand sports, I totally understood every single motivation this guy had, because I apply them to movies, and to politics, and to comic books. It’s the same spark, just different fuel.”

And then there was the cast of Adam, who faced the daunting task of promoting a movie shot over a year ago that they hadn’t seen at all. While Rose Byrne adorably struggled to remember much of anything but freezing in Central Park, her costar Hugh Dancy called the brochure copy for their movie “very successful.” “We’re learning now that the challenge of talking about it is the same set of challenges we had in making the film,” he continued. “It walks a very fine line between what you might call a serious issue — I’m playing a character with Asperger’s– and the fact that the movie is very light in tone and sweet and romantic and comic. But it doesn’t add up to a three-word summary.”

Hotel for Dogs jokes popped up again with the cast of Against the Current — in which Joseph Fiennes plays a man who decides to swim the length of the Hudson River — as actor Justin Kirk suggested their film should open on as many screens as the puppies got. Between mouthfuls of sandwich, Kirk also joked about his absent costar’s commitment to the role. “Joseph Fiennes, such a method actor,” he said. “We’d all go home to our hotels, and he’d swim to the next location.” The Current cast — including Trachtenberg and Elizabeth Reaser — were all Sundance vets, leaving their quiet director, Peter Callahan, as the lone festival virgin in the crew. When asked if they’d hazed him at all, Trachtenberg astutely observed, “I think the experience itself is almost hazing.”

Late afternoon welcomed the casts of two of the festival’s biggest successes so far: Mo’Nique and her Push costars Paula Patton and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe — so animated, passionate, and touching in their discussion that they’ll receive their own post later — and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel, promoting their “contemplative” romantic comedy, 500 Days of Summer. “It’s respectful of the tradition of the Hollywood love story because it’s partially about the misconceptions that can form when you too simplistically buy into such stereotypes,” explained Gordon-Levitt. “It’s my favorite kind of comedy. It’s not making you laugh because of some goofy gag or witty remark, but because you see it and you’re like, ‘Aw, I know how that feels.'”

Deschanel, now in her billionth trip to Park City, was also enjoying the chance to turn the tables on her Yes Man buddy Jim Carrey, in town for his first time with the gay prisoner romance I Love You Phillip Morris. “He’s all psyched, and I’m like, for once in my friendship with Jim Carrey I feel like I’m the seasoned professional, and he’s the new golden retriever puppy.” Her experience on the streets of Park City is indeed admirable, especially her dedication to the avoidance of swag — mostly. “I’m not taking anything this year,” she said, with a great deal of conviction. “I mean, that’s my goal. Unless somebody comes up with something I really want.” She laughed, then dropped the best possible analogy for handling the style suites: “It’s like being a healthy person. Every once in a while you might have a cookie. But if you can not have cookies all the time, you’re doing pretty well.”

An even more seasoned Sundance professional eventually arrived in the form of Peter Gallagher, here promoting Adam and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of original Sundance breakout sex, lies, and videotape. In hearing Gallagher’s memories, that long-ago festival could not seem more distant from the celebutard follies of today: “I got to the screening room — which felt like an elaborate church basement or annex or something — and [director] Steven [Soderbergh] was waiting there, and had a driver’s cap on,” Gallagher recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve been taking people back and forth to the airport.’ And then he presented the film. And I remember these industry people in front of us were like, ‘Oh, this sweet kid. It’s a sweet little festival, it’s nice, it’s skiing…” and by the end of the movie, they were….” Here, Gallagher put on a gobsmacked face. Then he concluded, “That’s one of the greatest experiences you can have in life as an actor: to contribute to a story that has a place in the world you live in.”

His sentiment was perhaps writ clearest by the cast of Amreeka, which includes Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat. Loosely based on director Cherien Dabis’ childhood as a Palestinian growing up in America during the Gulf War, the film tells the story of a single mom with an advanced education who moves with her young son from the checkpoints and dangers of the West Bank to Illinois, only to wind up working at a White Castle. (Read Lisa Schwartzbaum’s thoughts on the movie here.) Given the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip over the past 20 days, Dabis’s work has taken on new resonance, not just for audiences, but its creative team as well. “It’s so hard, and it’s bad news that we are hearing,” said lead actress Nisreen Faour, herself a Palestinian native. “For example, today, they said it’s been 1,300 people killed over the 20 days. So I believe that me as an an artist, I have to find a way to tell our story. I can’t do anything about that [conflict], because there’s nothing to do. There’s no end. But spreading our story, and our humanity, and our dreams, this is a way I believe it will help.”