Day three of Sundance! Today offered another fine crop of films, with some real gems. And one or two that will almost certainly make a splash later in the year.

To the Stars (2019) – dir. Martha Stephens

A coming-of-age story in the blatant tradition of The Last Picture Show–with a hint of In Cold BloodTo the Stars is a stunning portrait of female friendship, when the spunky new girl (Liana Liberato) and her family move to a small Oklahoma town and she befriends the shy, ostracized class pariah (Kara Hayward). Martha Stephens’s beautiful black and white story is deceptively simple and increasingly joyful, marred only by a third act climax that is a little out of place, but leads to a phenomenal punchline. To the Stars might not stick the landing, but is very lived-in, and unabashedly feminine. Stephens’s skillful direction and brisk pacing, a formidable ensemble, and even an immaculate score elevate To the Stars from above the average coming-of-age story. Reservations aside, To the Stars is something to behold.

***/**** (Better)


Late Night (2019) – dir. Nisha Ganatra

With The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling spent six seasons doing her darnedest to channel Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. With Late Night, Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra shift gears into something more in the vein of James L. Brooks–specifically the industry preoccupations of Broadcast News with the dynamics of Terms of Endearment, John Lithgow included. Late Night is an assured screenwriting debut, with smart intersectional commentary and even smarter jokes. Anchored by an unsurprisingly stellar performance from Emma Thompson, leading a cast with nary a slouch in sight, Late Night may pull some punches for the neatest possible ending, but is a devastatingly funny and well-observed social commentary on women and minorities in the workplace. And given the buzz on this one, not to mention a historic purchase from Amazon, Late Night is going to be one to watch.

***/**** (Better)


The Sunlit Night (2019) – dir.  David Wnendt

Without a doubt, the least inspired outing of the festival thus far. An American artist (Jenny Slate) spends the summer in the north of Norway, while the son of a baker (Alex Sharp) has come to the top of the world to bury his father. The Sunlit Night is a beautifully shot slog of post-millennial ennui. Think Under the Tuscan Sun, but without any sense of life or joy–save for a few decent jokes. Instead, Wnendt doubles down on  overstated twenty-something listlessness, toying with themes of family, art, and self-actualization in broad strokes. Jenny Slate continues to prove that she’s a talent to be reckoned with, but hasn’t had a proper vehicle since Obvious Child, and The Sunlit Night continues an unfortunate streak of wasted potential.

*/**** (Fair)


The Sound of Silence (2019) – dir. Michael Tyburski

Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence is a decidedly muted affair. An eccentric music theorist (Peter Sarsgaard) “tunes houses,” using the frequencies in and around homes, quelling certain mental maladies with unorthodox methods. Think of Sarsgaard’s tuner as a sort of Marie Kondo by way of Gregory House–I wish this were intentional.  And while The Sound of Silence plays like Blow-Up–as opposed to De Palma’s sound-oriented Antonioni riff Blow-Out–we’re treated to a tried-and-true story of a man gradually consumed by his own need to be proven right that is more grounded in the experience than the narrative. Tyburski’s film is a patient, painfully restrained marvel of sound design. Throughout the brownstone New York, we’re constantly keyed into a symphony of ordinary soundscapes that suddenly sound orchestrated. The Sound of Silence will not blow anyone away, but the film does serve as a fascinating experiment of craft.

**/**** (Good)


Well, that’s round one of Sundance for me. I’ll be back next weekend with another round-up of unseen treasures.

Stay tuned! Which is not a reference to The Sound of Silence, but here we are.

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