Before I get into any criticism, I have to thank my family–specifically my mom, my grandma, my aunts, and my uncles who all made this festival possible for me. For anyone who has ever read this site, my love of movies is quite great. And being from Utah, Sundance is the dream. To have one of the biggest film festivals in the world in one’s backyard is incredible; to take part in that experience is unbelievable. So, for those closest to me to support me, as they have for years, means everything to me. I’ve loved my time during the festival so much, and none this is possible without them.
So, thank you all for making this dream come true.
Having as much access to the festival as I have, I’m taking advantage of the offerings while I can, and the first wave of films has been fairly promising. So, here’s an ongoing rundown of Sundance pictures that I’ve caught, as well as my ballot rating.
After the Wedding (2018) – dir. Bart Freundlich
Adapted from Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated Danish drama, Bart Freundlich serves up a gender-swapped take on Bier’s story. Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore shine as women united by the former’s ex and the latter’s husband (Billy Crudup), both giving very different, but equally compelling performances in a delicately-paced, twisty, and often moving story about distance, noble lies, and parenthood. Freundlich’s direction is frequently lyrical and sharp–particularly the scenes between Williams and Moore–faltering somewhat in the very last minutes. Ultimately, After the Wedding is let down by Freundlich’s script, which is often redundant and muddled, with cringeworthy dialogue often saved by the performances, but is often distractingly clumsy.
Honey Boy (2019) – dir. Alma Har’el
Penned by co-star Shia LaBeouf, during a stint in rehab, Honey Boy is more of a tabloid curiosity than a compelling film. LaBeouf’s very own On the Road, where he retraces his steps through his early career through Otis (Lucas Hedges as an adult, and Noah Jupe as a kid), and particularly Otis’s volatile relationship with his show-dad (LaBeouf). Certainly, aspects of Honey Boy are genuinely compelling. Har’el lends a dreamlike quality to the proceedings, and gives proper weight and restraint to the film’s more shocking depictions of abuse. Honey Boy is more novelty than novel, though. And LaBeouf hampers a lot of the film’s power by overplaying the ostensible role of his own washed-up father, pushing Otis to greatness by any means necessary. Honey Boy is honest and realistic in capturing the complex, conflicted relationship between sons and fathers, but is more carried by the context than the merits of an otherwise interesting peak into a public figure’s therapy.
I Am Mother (2019) – dir. Grant Sputore
A minimalist sci-fi suspense picture in the vein of Moon or Ex Machina, Grant Spoture’s futuristic allegory of the tensions between parents and children is an impressive, terrifically designed and executed picture. When a strange woman (Hilary Swank) arrives at the doorstep of an underground bunker inhabited by a young human girl (Clara Rugaard) and her AI mother (Rose Byrne), the stranger drives a wedge between the mother and child by revealing the nature of the robots who have taken over the planet. Spoture’s film is thrilling and familiar, albeit a smidge redundant–even for a story about the cyclical nature–a downright rite of passage–of learning that one’s parents, even as computers, are imperfect, and doing our best not to repeat their mistakes.
The Farewell (2019) – dir. Lulu Wang
A guaranteed highlight of the festival, The Farewell is as intensely moving and thoughtful as a crowd-pleasing gut-buster can be. A Chinese family struggles to keep the terminal illness of the matriarch from her, with the sole granddaughter (Awkwafina) clashing with her relatives’ eastern customs with her westernized perspective. The Farewell is a phenomenally keen understanding of grief, and has an infectious affection for each member of this family–which includes an absolutely jaw-dropping performance from Zhao Shuzhen. The Farewell gets under the skin in the best way possible, questioning what we owe to our loved ones, Should, by some terrible act of God, The Farewell not be distributed, Wang’s soul-wrenching comedy will undoubtedly go down as one of 2019’s best and funniest films.
Coverage for Day 3 should follow this evening or tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!