Monday, February 20, 2012

Sundance 2012 Wrap Up - Day One

It all started badly, as it often does, because we were running late for our first movie. We didn’t allow enough time to get from Bountiful to Park City during morning rush hour and began snapping at each other as the time slipped away and we were stuck on the freeway. Thankfully, we managed to get to Eccles with about 5 minutes to spare which put us near the front row to see Price Check starring Parker Posey and Eric Mabius.

Price Check hit really close to home for me. Uncomfortably close. It’s the story of a guy (Ugly Betty’s Mabius) in an unchallenging, safe job with a wife and young baby who’s world is turned upside down when the new high-strung, workaholic boss (Posey) comes in to turn the place around. The new culture and intensity level throws off the whole comfortable balance he’s been enjoying.

Posey takes a liking to Mabius, gives him a big raise, makes him a VP and begins to mold him in her image. Suddenly, he’s working nights and weekends, he’s alienating his former equals at work, and his home life is affected. BUT, he’s reaching a new level of success in his career, so there’s good and bad. Eventually, this leads to an affair, a firing, and a near-collapse of his marriage.

These are very present themes in my life. How hard can I work and still maintain balance? If I go for the brass ring at work, will I become corrupted in the process? Will it cost me my family? Is it worth it? Am I selling myself short if I don’t at least try? Is a comfortable job better or worse than a challenging one? I am constantly feeling heavy with the burden of these questions, no joke, so watching it play out negatively on screen made my insides twist. Mabius worked in music earlier in his career, so when things get bad he considers starting his own label and getting back to what he really loves. Now, I know better than to think like that, but it doesn’t mean I DON’T think like that!

The ending falls a little short, the repercussions of everyone’s actions don’t seem big enough, but it was an excellent ride up to that point. And Posey is her usual quirky, enchanting self. They were both at the Q&A afterwards and the crowd really gave her hell for such a despicable character, completely ignoring how funny she was (the movie’s a black comedy, did I fail to mention that?). I hope this gets released because it’s a gem. SCORE = 8.5

Next up was Love Free Or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World, the story of openly gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson and the sea change his rise has brought to the Anglican Church.

Robinson’s profile has increased over the last few years. He even gave the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration. As one can imagine from a staid and traditional organization like the Anglican Church, his mere presence is threatening to throw everything they’ve known to be true and right for the last few hundred years into chaos (geez, where have I heard of this problem before?).

Robinson is a pretty amazing man, extremely lovable and humble, and can’t imagine a life outside of the church, even though their position flies in the face of what he feels to be right and Christian. The movie shows the annual conference the Bishop’s attend where a vote will take place on whether or not to allow gay Bishops and the potential restrictions on their service. The whole time I’m watching this, any time someone refers to “the church” I, of course, switch theirs for mine because the exact same dialogue is happening for us too. I wish big decisions like this could be put to a diplomatic vote and that policy could change just like that. We know it doesn’t, leaving the LDS church even behind the Church of England in the “get with the times” race.

As important a topic as this is, it deserved a slightly better movie. The doc was pretty by the numbers, more of a feature on 60 Minutes. Still, it should be required watching for any religious person who is conflicted over the emergence of homosexuals in their religion. You have a choice: you can love and embrace them or you can continue to shun. I vote for love. Oh, and I got to shake Gene’s hand on the way out and tell him how much I admired him. That’s what Sundance is all about, if you ask me. SCORE = 7

Here’s where things go downhill into “typical Sundance garbage” mode. The next movie was called The Comedy, even though it lacked what the title promised. It stars comedian Tim Heidecker (a poor man’s Zach Galifianakis) as a New York trust fund brat who wastes away his days hanging with his other trust fund buddies and getting high. I only know this because that's what the marketing materials said, not because it was obvious to the viewer.

I didn’t know who Heidecker was, but I guess he’s part of the comedy pair Tim and Eric who have a big cult following. The entire movie was made up, no formal script or structure, and it’s obvious from the first scene when the camera stays fixed on Heidecker’s face as he eats a cookie for about 5 minutes. There are many many scenes like this, most of the movie in fact. At one point, he picks up a girl and brings her back to his boat to get high. They get flirty and start to take their clothes off when she has a seizure. You see it start to happen, but then you just hear it as the camera stays on a close up of Heidecker as he just sits and watches it happen. Again, this goes on for like 5 minutes without a cut.

As painful as it was, there were maybe two or three funny scenes that had me laughing out loud. I could see it being a hit with the right kind of audience and under the right circumstances. There is a slight glint of a shabby charm that some may be more forgiving about. But, mostly it was just repellent and unpleasant. SCORE = 2

And now, for the final film of day one, we come to the worst one of the festival: For Ellen. It starred Paul Dano as a nobody rock star going through a divorce who is trying to negotiate for more time to spend with his estranged daughter that he hardly knows (that’s who Ellen is, btw). These negotiations take place in a nameless small town in the heartland that is cold and wet and covered with snow. Dano’s lawyer is played be Jon Heder (Napolean Dynamite) of all people.

Talk about a movie with long stretches of close-ups of forlorn, sad faces meant to evoke a deep reservoir of emotion! With all that snow, there’s plenty for Dano to stare at for hours and hours. And, it’s another movie with a thin, skeletal script that is largely improvised and made up on the spot. Why do aspiring filmmakers feel like that is attractive to viewers? It never is.

There isn’t much to say about For Ellen. It’s really lethargic and slow. The thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was why would Heder break his rule of no rated R movies for this piece of junk? There’s a scene of him and Dano drinking in a bar (where Dano does the weakest, most lifeless lip-synch to Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” that is humanly possible) and then they share a cigarette afterwards that Heder doesn’t want to smoke (“I just like holding it”). My guess is the roles are drying up and this was a chance to be seen in something, anything, so he grabbed it. I don’t blame him, he probably was going to need to do that at some point, but why this inconsequential movie? Sad all around. SCORE = 1


Brooke & Jake said...

Love that you shook Bishop Gene's hand. I agree. That's the best part about Sundance.

Marianne said...

I would reverse The Comedy and For Ellen. I hated The Comedy and the interview after made me hate it more. Oddly, the interview after made me like For Ellen a little, but made me realize it is truly who you know.