Patterns tend to emerge when it comes to film festival programming – and not just when it comes to actors or filmmakers who return to show their newest works year after year, and not even as it applies to the type of films that always appear to be shoo-ins for the latest outing of a particular festival, but in a microcosmic way that’s unique to a single festival in a single year. Certain types of films end up getting made at the same time, and then they all seem to pop up at the same festival, unofficially turning a festival that’s not thematically arranged into one that features at least a mini version of a thematically grouped fest. This makes the concept sound a bit complicated, so let’s put it simply – it’s surprising how many films that address the same themes and tones and topics end up at the same festival at the same time, but it also happens all the time. (Anyone care to remember Sundance 2011, which featured a spat of cult-centric films?)
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival another thematic pattern between new narrative films showed its face early, and it’s one that I grappled with way back then and still think about even now. Yesterday’s release of the trailer for the Kristen Bell-starring The Lifeguard only served to remind just how much the narrative features at Sundance 2013 were abnormally preoccupied with inappropriate relationships (yes, we’re talking the sexy kind of relationship), not just in terms of age differences, but also when it comes to power differences (which, hey, is also often linked to age). If you were looking to see teachers taking up with their students, women taking up with boys young enough to be their sons, and even a suburban mom trying to rescue a young sex worker, Sundance was the place to be. (And if you were also looking for a bunch of films with the same themes that treat the material very differently, Sundance 2013 would have also been a nice fit for your tastes.) Now that the five best examples of this pattern are all due to hit theaters soon (with trailers to prove it!), I am compelled to ask: which of these inappropriate relationship-centric films from Sundance do you most want to see? Because I’ve seen them all and I’m still struggling with most of them.
Opens August 30th
The Bell-starring production from Liz W. Garcia starts off as more of a quarterlife crisis (thanks, John Mayer) film, following the demise of former go-getter Leigh’s (Bell) personal and professional life. Unhappy in the city, she moves back to the suburbs with her parents, where she begins regressing with startling quickness – thanks to hanging out with her old high school friends and picking up her old high school job (as a lifeguard). Leigh’s regression seems complete when she starts hanging out with actual teenagers, including the mysterious Jason (David Lambert), and then it only gets worse.
Adore (formerly known as Two Mothers)
Opens September 6th
While Adore’s original title, Two Mothers, was far better-suited for the material, it doesn’t look like Anne Fontaine’s film has changed a smidge since Sundance – after all, how could it? The entire film centers on the sexual relationships that kick up between a pair of childhood best friends, played by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, and their pals’ sons (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville). That’s a double dose of the taboo right there, folks.
Release date not yet announced
The team behind Sundance favorite Like Crazy (director and co-writer Drake Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones) returned to the festival with Breathe In, starring their former leading lady Felicity Jones, along with Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, and the wonderful newcomer Mackenzie Davis. Brit exchange student Sophie (Jones) arrives in upstate New York to stay with the Reynolds family, including disaffected dad Keith (Pearce), who quickly bonds with his new charge over their shared musical talents. Too bad he also has a daughter her own age. Too bad he’s married. Oh, and too bad he’s also her teacher.
Opens August 23rd
The most high-spirited and comedic entry into the inappropriate relationship Sundance arena, Jill Soloway’s film starts off amusingly enough – the wonderful Kathryn Hahn plays a disaffected suburban parent (wait, does that sound familiar?) who doesn’t fit in with her rich LA neighbors and can’t quite seem to make her husband (Josh Radnor) want her sexually. On a couples’ night out, they end up at a strip club (sure?) where Hahn’s Rachel finds herself compelled by young stripper McKenna (Juno Temple), to the point the she ultimately “adopts” McKenna as a nanny. Things go off the rails quickly and, somehow, Soloway’s funny film about the inappropriate becomes the most uncomfortable and ill-advised one of all.
Opens September 6th
The most paint-by-the-numbers “taboo” relationship portrayed in the bunch, Hannah Fidell’s film about a young teacher (Lindsay Burdge) who takes up with her own student (Will Brittain) is also the most nuanced and finely considered. It’s salacious, but it’s also deeply sad.