If day three of the Sundance Film Festival proved anything, it’s that ridiculous notion that at some point in your day, you should eat food. Bizzarre concept. And one I didn’t follow through with – aside from a mini-box of Cheez-Its and a granola bar from Ms. Kate Erbland. Any who, no need to digress into inconsequential small talk. Enjoy the roundup!
Austenland (dir. Jerusha Hess)
(Grade: D) — Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) has an obsession. An uncommon obsession, but a deeply damaging one. You see, Jane is infatuated with the opulent worlds created by author Jane Austen. Beautiful and bright (and borderline delusional), Jane is the type of woman who has watched Pride and Prejudice 1,700 times, memorized chapters from Austen’s most iconic novels, and still believes she’ll fall in love with James Darcy.
Her fantasy becomes her reality as she travels to an Austen theme park – which is as crazy as it sounds. Adapting Shannon Hale’s novel, Jerusha Hess’ directorial debut manages to be insufferable, unfunny and achingly predictable all at once. As Jane begins to explore the depths of Austenland she falls for a couple of paid actors working at theme park – Martin (Bret McKenzie) and Mr. Noble (JJ Felid).
Nuance is apparently lost on the entire production of this endless, painful train-wreck. Moreover, it’s a pity seeing the wonderful Keri Russell squandered in such a trite exercise in romantic-comedy filmmaking.
Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley)
(Grade: A-) — With the transcendent Stories We Tell, Canadian-born and -raised filmmaker Sarah Polley is essentially telling the story of every family through her own. In an attempt to understand where (and who) she comes from, Polley interviews members of her family and close friends who knew her mother Diana, a vibrant and charismatic woman who passed away when Sarah was 11.
Through intimate one-on-one conversations, Stories We Tell uncovers the past through the memories of others. Which, in many ways, is what the film is about: how we as people tell stories through our own selective and incongruous memories. Ingrained in tenderness and honesty too often absent in the world we inhabit, Polley elicits emotion genuinely.
While I still hold a certain disdain for Take This Waltz, it’s clear that Polley is someone we should cherish. But more importantly, Stories We Tell is an indispensable documentary that demands and deserves the attention of everyone.
Touchy Feely (dir. Lynn Shelton)
(Grade: C-) — Of the nine films I’ve seen at Sundance thus far, Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely is far and away the most disappointing effort yet. Contrary to the raw emotion conveyed in Your Sister’s Sister and Humpday, Shelton’s fourth film rings awfully false.
Rosemarie DeWitt (once again cast in a Shelton endeavor) plays a massage therapist whose life has suddenly gone awry. Her relationships with her boyfriend, Jesse (Scoot McNairy), and her vigorless dentist brother, Paul (Josh Pais), spiral out of control as she develops an unexpected aversion to touch.
Wallowing along on an obvious thematic throughline (the difficulties of committing to the people you love), Touch Feely morphs into a pseudo-existential, soul-searching drama that doesn’t induce feeling because Shelton forgets to flesh out characters for us to sympathize or relate with. Admittedly, Shelton appears to be evolving as a visual stylist, but at what cost? In the case of Touchy Feely, it’s the price of a worthwhile script.
Don Jon’s Addiction (dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
(Grade: B) — Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), purveyor of misogyny and hilarity, is devoted to eight things in his life: his family, his boys, his church, his women, his pad, his car, his body, and most importantly, his porn. Oh yes, Don Jon is living the bachelor life which consists of sexual intercourse followed by loads (no pun intended) of porn, and then to his local church where can be absolved of his sins.
Joseph-Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is essentially that routine repeated tenfold. That is until a “dime” (played by Scarlett Johnason) steps into the sexual crosshairs of Don Jon. A crazy little thing called love ensues, which—as it too often does—throws everything and everyone off. Levitt’s career-making movie – analyzing how men and women alike objectify one another – manages to be funny and heartfelt at once. Which, considering the droves of unflattering porn presented in the film, is quite the accomplishment (well, that is unless you find pornography heartfelt).
Photos courtesy of Sundance festival site.