Sundance highs and lows: Lisa Schwarzbaum's take
A look at Julianne Moore's ''The Kids Are All Right,'' Jesse Eisenberg's ''Holy Rollers,'' and more
Dare to tell your own story!
For me, old-fashioned richness of story distinguished the best of the fest. Winter’s Bone, by the very independent-minded filmmaker Debra Granik, radiates with regional authenticity. (Hooray, it won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. dramatic competition!) Set in the Ozarks, it follows a teenage girl’s search for her meth-brewing daddy on the lam, which expands into a gritty, mythic saga about blood ties. The cast is essentially unknown, although stunning Jennifer Lawrence, in the main role, won’t be for long. The Kids Are All Right, on the other hand, by the equally independent-minded Lisa Cholodenko, stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in casting harmony as a lesbian couple whose teenage daughter and son form a relationship with their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo). Funny, smart, and sexy, this pitch-perfect movie charms audiences into a state of enlightenment.
Beware young stars seeking indie cred
I like Jesse Eisenberg. I like Justin Bartha. Their very Jesse- and Justinhood, however, detract from the novelty act of their costumed performances in Holy Rollers, a self-consciously colorful drama-based-on-headlines about Hasidic Jews who run an Ecstasy smuggling operation out of Brooklyn in the late 1990s. Likewise, Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Anna Paquin, Adam Brody, et al. don’t do much, but do so prettily, in The Romantics. In this irksomely inconsequential post-post-Big Chill, Duhamel plays a groom-to-be obviously marrying the wrong girl (Paquin) instead of his true love (Holmes), for tedious reasons.
Female filmmakers keep shining
In addition to superb work by Cholodenko and Granik, I was moved by writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give, about a Manhattan mother and wife (Catherine Keener, the Lovely and Amazing filmmaker’s longtime muse) who has an inkling of a world beyond the door of her nicely designed apartment.
Docs continue to blur truth and artifice
The eel-slippery neo-documentary Catfish is a tech-savvy project with a homemade aesthetic. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the film never takes its eyes off Schulman’s mediagenic brother, Nev, a hip New York City photographer, as he forms an intimate Facebook relationship with a virtual-world girlfriend in Michigan. With a road trip to the mystery woman’s home, the film becomes something else — including a challenge to audiences to question the intent and POV of every documentary, always.
The world (and world cinema) is a very big place
There wasn’t one story in the world-cinema competition (full disclosure: I was on the jury) about a cute young man trying to work out a relationship with a cute young woman. Instead, Southern District takes on social and political changes in Bolivia via an engrossing story of employer/employee power in one family’s gracious home; All That I Love refracts 1980s Polish political upheaval through the rise of a student punk band; Four Lions mines unnerving comedy from the missteps of British jihadists; a 12-year-old Kurdish boy and his grandmother search Iraq for his missing father in Son of Babylon; and the boffo Australian genre pic (and world-cinema Grand Prize winner) Animal Kingdom boasts one of the most riveting, frightening, down-and-dirty, everyday crime families you’ll ever meet.