Watching movies in the shadow of President Trump.
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival started under President Obama and ended under President Trump. It also featured hundreds of people using movies to avoid the inauguration, a Women’s March through frozen streets, and movies that acted as direct rebukes to the version of The United States that President Trump wants to create. Following the lead of puffy-jacketed volunteers, the tone of the entire festival was warm hospitality toward films and folks from all walks of life and all corners of the planet.
I saw only 23 movies, so I didn’t get to catch anti-Trumpist movies like Beatriz at Dinner, The Incredible Jessica James, or Mudbound, but there were still several I caught that felt like big middle fingers to the ideology that could barely fill half the National Mall on Inauguration Day.
The Big Sick
There will be many “movies we need right now” in the age of Trump, but The Big Sick is the movie we need right now. It raises the bar on romantic comedies, yet it also quietly subverts all the bullshit we thought we got out of our national system years ago, only to find it re-litigated by an emergent crowd rocking Pepe the Frog pins they bought off Etsy.
First of all, it focuses on an interracial relationship between two people who clearly, unabashedly, Bogey-and-Bacall level dig each other. Second of all, we get a ton of screentime with a delightfully stuck-in-the-mud, conservative, Pakistani, immigrant, Muslim family who want an arranged marriage for their Western-raised son. The humor has a kind edge to it, and a ton of people should recognize their own family in The Big Sick, regardless of the external labels. My dad was a goofy, intelligent, stubborn, irritating white boy from small town Texas, and I saw his reflection in the goofy, intelligent, stubborn, irritating Muslim man from Pakistan (played by Bollywood legend Anupam Kher).
Co-written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, based on their own relationship, The Big Sick tells the story of Kumail (playing himself like L.A.) and Emily (Zoe Kazan) navigating their cultural differences and an illness that brings Emily’s parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) into the fold. It’s funny as hell, sweet, sad, and wonderful, and at least a few people will scratch their heads, wondering how they could have seen Kumail as, GASP, a regular human being even though, DOUBLE GASP, he has a different skin color and cultural religious heritage.
It will be the same shock when people enjoy horror anthology XX only to realize it, TRIPLE GASP, was written and directed solely by women.
Nanjiani’s charm could cause a KKK meeting to disband, and Hunter and Kazan’s strength and wit here are inspiring. This is the exact film that backward troglodytes will accuse of being part of the secret Hollywood cabal to indoctrinate people to, QUADRUPLE GASP, like their neighbors. Maybe it is. Good for it. It will sneakily infiltrate the minds of people who don’t understand why thousands are protesting at airports right now, yet still want a harmless, super fun rom-com to watch. Anything to get people to recognize the core humanity sitting across the table from them.
To anti-immigration people: Immigrants fought to come here. Immigrants had to prove that they belong here. You were just born here.
An Inconvenient Sequel
Donald Trump: “Climate Change is a Chinese Hoax.”
An Inconvenient Sequel: “Yeah, no. Here’s all the people it’s killing and displacing. Either fix it or buy boats for everyone in Miami Beach.”
Call Me By Your Name
Armie Hammer falling in love with Timothée Chalamet is sexier than anything else you’ll see this year.
Their romance also hit American shores (read: the snow-buried streets of Park City, Utah) a week before President Trump is rumored to sign an Executive Order (he’s having so much fun with them!) targeting the LGBTQ community ‐ which may involve rolling back protections for federal workers or propel forward the Orwellian-named First Amendment Defense Act, which codifies discrimination. After blowing an afternoon on Finding Dory (the movie about a family who takes in a stranger, reuniting after a period of forced detainment…), President Trump should be forced to watch Call Me By Your Name with Vice-President Pence so that all of their repressed feelings can come bubbling up to the surface.
In fact, every small-minded bigot who thinks gay people should be electrocuted straight should be strapped to a chair and, Ludovico Treatment style, made to watch Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous, lazy summer, coming-of-age masterpiece. They’ll all be rubbing mustaches by the end, Googling “Kinsey Scale,” tears streaming down their faces in glorious release. See you at the next march, y’all.
The film finds 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet) hunting for his sexuality in the early 1980s, hanging out at ponds and parties with bed-ready girlfriend Marzia (the excellent Esther Garrel), but also lusting after the consistently shirtless Oliver (Hammer), who is interning for Elio’s wealthy, academic father (Michael Stuhlbarg).
If there’s any question as to how much Team Pence will loathe this wonderful movie, here’s Michael Arbeiter of Nerdist on its impact:
“[T]hose of us who spend our lives in this indefinable grey area ‐ landing someplace between gay and straight, or sexually driven and asexual, or cis and trans, or male and female ‐ may feel as though we’re coming up shy of otherwise obvious answers. Trust me on this: It’s very fucking frustrating.
“But seeing in Elio this desperation for any shore to climb aboard, and hearing from Guadagnino that such is a pain as valid and romantic and beautiful as any the big screen is accustomed to spotlighting, felt like I was catching glimpse of what I’d always sought. Not just the validation, but the celebration of stories like mine: of people who can’t figure out who or what they’re supposed to like, date, sleep with, look like, call themselves, or be. People like me, who wear makeup and are attracted to everyone but go out with no one and haven’t figured out what pronouns to use. Frustrations will abound, of that I’m sure. But seeing my story onscreen ‐ committed with the utmost beauty, humanity, and sexuality ‐ is a big step in figuring out how to tell it myself.”
President Trump was unavoidable at the festival this year, but many of the films of Sundance 2017 had a fighting message to convey. Culture bites back. We’re here, we’re different, and we all care about each other.
Or, in the words of the great Ron Swanson, America’s mascot:
Dear @realDonaldTrump , Shove it up your ass. Sincerely, America
Know of another movie we need to watch in the shadow of Trump? Let us know in the comments section or email [email protected] with the subject “Trump Movies.”