And thus ends another Sundance Film Festival. This year’s festival provided us with plenty of feature fodder to examine for the next eleven or so months, despite the lack of any big breakout a la Fruitvale Station or Beasts of the Southern Wild. As ever, though, the festival featured some recurring trope and tricks (a few of which we identified early), but not all of them seemed rote or repetitive. In fact, there are more than a few themes and players that popped up throughout the festival that we would like to see more of – either at Sundance or out in the wide release world.
So what kept showing up in this year’s Sundance selections that deserves a bigger stage? Read on, and make some notes.
The starlet appears in no less than three of this year’s Sundance features – Happy Christmas, The Voices, and Life After Beth – and each performance asked for something very different from Kendrick. Her work in Life After Beth was a bit limited, basically, she needed to both charm Dane DeHaan and then look totally terrified when his back-from-the-dead girlfriend returns, a fun supporting role she pulls off the aplomb. In The Voices, she essentially acts as an audience surrogate, an innocent who thinks that Ryan Reynolds is just a nice guy, but who soon discovers the truth of his murderous existence. Tasked with looking genuinely terrified, Kendrick is more than little heartbreaking here. But true heartbreak awaits for Kendrick in Joe Swanbarg’s Happy Christmas, which see Kendrick going whole hog on this bad break-up and worse drinking thing. If you thought Olivia Wilde did hungover, day after shame well in Drinking Buddies, you’re going to love Kendrick’s work here.
Webber is a Sundance regular (I still know people who get misty when they think about his The End of Love), appearing in a big chunk of features in recent years, running the gamut from The Lie to Save the Date to For A Good Time, Call…, and this year he turns in two very different performances in two seemingly similar features. In Swanberg’s Happy Christmas, he’s a smoothie drug dealer type with a heart of gold, while in Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, he’s a bit of a sadsack doormat that gets stepped on by Keira Knightley nearly without pause. Each performance could have just been a throwaway supporting role, but Webber brings charm to spare to both of them.
Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child”
Of course Gillian Robespierre’s Jenny Slate-starring comedy features Paul Simon’s song within its awesome soundtrack – after all, the film is named after it, but the jam also pops up in Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here. Braff’s latest isn’t great, and the scene it appears in is one of the worst in the film (hint: it’s part of the feature’s ill-advised “Josh Gad goes to Comic-Con” subplot), but the song is so wonderful that it instantly makes a dumb, dumb, dumb scene seem, well, at least palatable. Score one for the little guy.
Drinking Through Breakups
There’s nothing special about getting drunk to forget a bad love affair, but that doesn’t mean it’s not damn amusing to watch on the big screen, especially when it results in big laughs and big revelations. Happy Christmas, Obvious Child, and Appropriate Behavior all go the liquid route when it comes to getting over an ex, and while we’re positive they are not the only films to do so at the festival, they are the only ones I actually saw that did it. And, you know what? The result in each is, at turns, uproarious and totally wrenching. It goes down smooth(ish).
Sure, setting your indie film about life or just like whatever in New York City’s Brooklyn borough may sound cliché as all get out, but two of my favorite films from the festival – Appropriate Behavior and Obvious Child – take place in Brooklyn, and they appropriately skewer a lot of the location-based tropes we are getting used to seeing on the big screen. Other Sundance features also spend some serious time in Brooklyn, from Listen Up Philip to Song One, and while they have provide a more traditional look at the borough, they still give us a more full look at the area than something like Girls.
An amusing little trope in both Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (while we see no actual jar, there is clearly a surcharge for swearing) and in Braff’s Wish I Was Here, keeping everyone’s mouth clean is a good thing – especially considering the rise of children straight-up flipping their parents off in this year’s film (it happens in both Cooties and The Skeleton Twins, cute, right?).
Filmmakers Using Their Own Kids in Their Features
This one is a little complicated, especially given the very young age of both the kids in question, but the results are stellar and I certainly hope none of the young ones are scarred for life. Both Linklater and Swanberg used their own spawn to populate important kid roles in both their films – Lorelai Linklater grows quite beautifully in Boyhood and baby Jude Swanberg steals the show in Happy Christmas – and they both have futures in film, if they want them.