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What I Saw At Sundance 2010 (Day 3)
by Erik Childress

Saturday at Sundance brought us women who laugh at mammograms, a couple of douchebags, Ryan Reynolds in a box and one of the best films of the entire fest.

I learn something new at Sundance every year. This year it was that, apparently, women find mammograms hilarious. I don’t think this was the point of view shared by writer/director Nicole Holocefner, but in the opening moments of her latest project the row of women at the public screening were laughing uncontrollably at the parade of naked breasts getting screened during the opening credits. Let it never be said again that men can’t be the mature ones. Onto the film though which doesn’t always share that sentiment, Holofcener again introduces us to a number of female characters; some doing their best to take care of others and another pair who selfishly conform to their own needs. Catherine Keener, unlike her usual Holofcener appearances, gets to play the most giving of the bunch, who along with her husband (Oliver Platt) buy furniture from the deceased to resell. To counter her increasing guilt sheconsistently helps out the homeless population and begins looking to volunteer for the less fortunate. Equal to her generosity is a mammogram technician (Rebecca Hall) who takes care of her grandmother living next door to Keener. She has a sister (Amanda Peet) who only sees the mean in grandma and can’t wait for her to die and Keener’s daughter (Sarah Steele from Spanglish) with bad skin who wants to compensate for these genetic blemishes with expensive clothes. Holofcener always gives us more to chew on than originally meets the eye in her films and she writes female characters with an intelligence,sensitivity and realism that blows the Sex and the City foursome away any day of the week. Not quite sure how we’re supposed to interpret the replacement of philanthropy with materialism, but it’s an interesting way to open up the conversation without condescending to what the right point of view is supposed to be.

Leave it to Sundance to program a film like this and have it not live up to its title. Sam (Andrew Dickler) is getting married to Steph (Marguerite Moreau) and she is insisting that his brother, Tom (Ben York Jones) make it to the wedding. They had a falling out years ago and she goes so far to surprise Tom and pick him up for the weekend. Sam admits he is not happy to see Tom but they are amicable enough over dinner to talk about Tom’s 5th grade crush on a girl which Sam insists they track down so he can have a date for the nuptials. Thus begins a roadtrip that can best be described as someone trying to do a roadshow version of Sideways so the true D-bag of the piece can reveal their self. On a superficial surface, the one who turns out to be the real slime doesn’t real qualify for true douchebag status. He’s more of a casual jagoff with loyalty problems. On a bigger level, Drake Doremuss film runs out of laughs very early and despite clocking in at a measly 66 minutes, the trip itself feels endless with not enough being developed for the nicer brother for us to care if he ever reconciles or finds love through these creepy circumstances.

Now HERE is a film that could be labeled Douchebag. We already had one film this trip aspiring to the likes of Alexander Payne. Now comes Sundance’s version of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell. Yes, not since Tucker Max was immortalized a few months back on the big screen have we seen a more unforgivable dick than the one portrayed by Stephen Hale in this film. In his first scene he’s vomiting away the previous night’s drinking party. In the second he finishes vomiting on one of the kids on his soccer team. About the same time his best friend Peter (Anthony Deptula) comes into town after deciding to end things with his girlfriend. Fischer lives in a church at the cost of turning off the lights in the evening and that affords him time to counsel his buddy in the way of cougars, calling his girlfriend names on the phone and throwing a church party where he hits on his player’s mom by asking her what it was like to birth a retarded child. Just because the film is in black and white that doesn’t wash away the disgust or forgive the behavior with some indie edge. This is neither funny nor cautionary. It is simply reprehensible material culled from a real-life relationship with the filmmaker. Thanks for sharing.

The temptation to call Debra Granik’s latest film, Frozen River Jr., will be great. But the longer the buzz builds for it and for Jennifer Lawrence’s star-making performance, it will become abundantly clear that this is the Senior of the two films. Set in the Ozarks, Lawrence stars as Ree, a 17 year-old who has become the de facto mother of her family. With a younger brother and sister and a catatonic mom, Ree must come to terms with the disappearance of her father, a crystal meth dealer who has jumped bail on the eve of his court date. Unless he is found, dead or alive, the family’s cabin put up for collateral will be taken away from them. Ree must do her best detective work amongst the various kin of hillbilly relatives living in the area and fast. The more questions she asks though, the more we understand that this is a man nobody wants found alive and they would best have her shut her mouth, no matter how tough and determined. Winter’s Bone is a fascinating kind of thriller, complete with a mystery and a lot of vague interfamilial politics that may not be as up front the first time around. I am certainly looking forward to a second viewing to revisit those cracks in the discoveries. John Hawkes, who has played the shyer, meeker half in TV’s Deadwood and the great Me and You and Everyone We Know, does standout work here as the criminal uncle that, despite his stature, is one that nobody wants to screw with. It’s a remarkable performance that draws from dread and eventually a touching paternal eye. This is Lawrence’s film from top to bottom though and, assuming this film is picked up by Sony Classics or someone along their ilk and released in 2010, you can bank that she will be a lock for an Oscar nomination. Just as Granik’s previous Sundance entry, Down to the Bone, was a lightning rod for Vera Farmiga’s coming out party, Jennifer Lawrence is going to be someone to keep an eye on as she molds into one of the go-to actresses of the indie circuit and beyond.

You can read the full review here.

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originally posted: 02/01/10 16:42:27
last updated: 02/01/10 17:25:35
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