As Sundance kicks off today, first impressions of some of the movies might suggest it’s more of a depression fest than a film fest.
Take a closer look, and you’ll see that gloomy, cold, and painful are more apt descriptions of the festival’s mountainous winter weather this time around.
The annual indie showcase, which runs in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 19 to 29, is actually fairly warm and cozy, dominated by a heavy lineup of comedies, and featuring a selection of dramas that tend to be more touching than harrowing (although there’s some of that, too).
Granted, the documentaries tend to be unrelentingly bleak, and there are definitely films that steer deeply into tragedy, but by and large, if you’re looking for patterns, Sundance 2012 is about overcoming hard times, not wallowing in them.
Here’s a look at 12 movies hoping to strike a nerve:
Robot and Frank (clip)
‘SLEEPWALK WITH ME’
If there’s one movie that epitomizes Sundance’s mood this year, it’s Sleepwalk With Me.
In this semi-autobiographical tale — written, directed by, and starring stand-up storyteller Mike Birbiglia — a struggling comedian discovers that the many ways life is kicking his ass actually makes for hilarious material. The movie is about “the concept you can talk about these things your ashamed of, and more often than not, you find a deeper connection with people,” Birbiglia tells EW. “The one thing you’re most reluctant to tell, that’s where the comedy is.”
After several sweat-inducing scenes of his character dying at the microphone, the moment he finally starts to get laughs from a paying audience may strike some moviegoers with the same wave of relief as Tim Robbins opening his arms to the rain in The Shawshank Redemption. “Only a comedy lover would compare those two things,” Birbiglia laughs. “That’s an absurd compliment, thank you.”
Birbiglia has told his stories several times on WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life, and host Ira Glass helped produce this movie from the comedian’s one-man show, which gets its name from a sleepwalking affliction that hit him when he was at his most desperate. (Glass is also credited as a co-writer, along with Birbiglia’s brother Joe, and Seth Barrish, who directed the stage version.) “We decided, why not try to make this as a film?” Birbiglia says. “It has an interesting, compelling narrative about relationships, with this character being in denial about his college sweetheart and failing career, and then he also has this dangerous sleep disorder.”
And it’s funny, especially when the main character is not.
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