Sundance 2017 Day 9 Capsules | Buzz Blog

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sundance 2017 Day 9 Capsules

Coming of age, giving birth and leaving a family

Posted By on January 28, 2017, 9:37 AM

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Wallking Out (U.S. Dramatic) ***1/2
At a point in Walking Out—about a weekend father-and-son hunting trip in the isolated Montana snow—the two fall down, and the 14-year-old son instantly asks Dad if he's okay without even checking himself. Writer/directors Alex and Andrew Smith don't underline it, but it's the most important moment in the film, a true coming-of-age story. Walking Out is mostly a two-hander about a non-custodial divorced father (Matt Bomer) and his son (Josh Wiggins), with occasional flashbacks to Dad's first moose, when he was also 14, using the gun he's giving his boy today. Obviously there wouldn't be a movie if things went perfectly, highlighting some of the narrative tracks, grandpa parallels and character polarities as they're laid out; ten'll get ya 20 if you can guess sight-unseen whether the boy has a game-ready smartphone and what Montana-cabin Dad thinks of it. But between the elemental conflicts and character arcs, the gorgeous bloody nature and spare dialogue, it's as if Jack London had come back to make movies. The narrative is (convincingly) about hunting in the particular, but about more than that in general. I still remember when my mother was having problems stepping off a steep-stepped train, and put her hands on my shoulders for support. And the fact the moment involved my mother and had nothing to do with hunting, yet I thought of it now, should tell you how universal is Walking Out is. (Victor Morton)
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(Premieres) **1/2
It's shocking to realize in the closing credits that Daniel Clowes adapted the screenplay for his own graphic novel, since the sensibility that ends up on the screen here is almost unrecognizable as that of the writer's published work. The story of Wilson (Woody Harrelson)—a long-divorced, filter-less misanthrope—was, in Clowes' book, the almost heartbreakingly sad tale of a lonely man grasping for any kind of connection to give his life meaning. Here, his misadventures—including tracking down his ex-wife (Laura Dern) and finding the now-teenage daughter she gave up for adoption—become merely the stuff of quirky indie dysfunctional-family dramedy (much like director Craig Johnson's previous Sundance feature, The Skeleton Twins). Harrelson gives Wilson a kick of humor, conveying that many of his problems come from a complete inability to interact with other people the way they expect to be interacted with. Yet by sanding down the rough edges of Wilson's misery and isolation, Clowes and Johnson turn him into sort of an eccentric uncle character, stripping the episodic story of any chance at real resonance. As for the ending: It's hard to imagine a way the source material's conclusion could have worked in a way that wasn't profoundly depressing, but the upbeat resolution that ends up on screen makes it hard to believe Clowes had any part in it, at least without a gun to his head. (Scott Renshaw)

Beatriz at Dinner (Premieres) *1/2
As a broad comedy of manners, it could have worked: the story of a New Age-y masseuse named Beatriz (Salma Hayek) stranded at the home of one of her wealthy clients (Connie Britton) by a broken-down car, becoming the working-class fly in the ointment at a dinner party attended by a bunch of corporate high rollers, including a cutthroat real-estate tycoon (John Lithgow). And for a little while, it's exactly that, even as the script by Mike White (collaborating again with director Miguel Arteta) tosses up batting-practice pitches of insensitive, oblivious comments for our knowing chuckles ("Rich people, amirite? Aren't they the worst?"). It's hard to emphasize enough, however, what a tonal disaster that final 15 minutes turn out to be, as Beatriz's shock at the attitudes of her dining companions begins manifesting itself in a variety of bizarre ways. White's brand of dark comedy has always been an acquired taste, but this is such a bizarre mishmash of self-righteous satire and earnest pity for too-sensitive-for-this-world Beatriz that it ends up somehow both painfully obvious and maddeningly opaque. If you want to feel good about yourself for not being the kind of person who assumes every Latina woman you see must be the hired help, though, here you go. (SR)

My Happy Family (World Dramatic) ****
This realist Georgian drama begins where Ibsen's A Doll's House ends, with a woman walking out on her family without the long-accepted justifications such as adultery or abuse. Even more than Nora though, Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) refuses to explain herself, and the entreaties from her family—especially her meddling mother and brother concerned for family honor—bounce off her like rain. But it's clear to us, thanks to the direction and performances. In scenes at the home and other social gatherings, the camera is constantly prowling while tightly framing Manana around boisterous traditional-society groupings. The feel is the kind of intimate claustrophobia one associates with recent Romanian films. But the whole movie rests in the façade of Shugliashvili as a woman who leaves her family only to learn that she really can't. Oh, she can divorce, and she can even enjoy listening alone in her own apartment to a Mozart sonata; indeed these types of “empty” scenes are the loveliest in the film. But she's still embedded, and when other secrets come out, she can't not be devastated. Even an ex-husband can't really be a stranger. Like Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, the ending is about how love never really dies. (VM)

Motherland (World Documentary) ***
Or, Frederick Wiseman's Maternity Ward. Okay, that's probably an overly-glib way of explaining the way the fly-on-the-wall pioneer's fingerprints are all over this study of Manila's Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, the busiest hospital for delivering babies in the world; in part it's a huge stylistic surprise, considering how director Ramona S. Diaz's previous feature was a documentary about the band Journey. Like Wiseman's landmark films, this one is a snapshot of an institution, conveying the details—expectant mothers forced to share a single bed due to the crowded conditions; a nurse whose announcements to the women in the ward often come with a little stank on 'em—that makes it unique.  Unlike Wiseman, however, it's hard not to realize that Diaz is presenting all of this information with a pretty clear thesis statement in mind: the problems associated with these mostly-poor women in a predominantly-Catholic country having huge families that they can't afford, yet resisting the staff's encouragement to employ family planning of any kind. Valid though the hospital staff's concerns may be, it's hard not to feel uncomfortable about the way they don't just provide information, but harangue these women about their choices, or about Diaz's pointed cutaways to religious symbols. When Diaz focuses on these new mothers, and the obvious challenges they're going to face, Motherland is a fascinating snapshot of a country. It's a bit less effective when compassion gives way to judgment. (SR)

Lemon (NEXT) *
Five minutes in, I knew that not even Beyonce could make anything out of this Lemon. The film had clearly been custom-designed to aggravate me: a protagonist whom I hate; cute film-school technique; “quirk” in every facet of the film; authorial contempt that's meant to be funny; over-the-top-while-deadpan acting; a plot designed primarily to laugh at his ineffectuality and assholishness. Some of my all-time favorite movies (A Clockwork Orange, Raging Bull) have deeply unlikable protagonists, but it was never the point to laugh at them and make the movies an exercise in self-congratulatory sadism that I simply won't abide for more than a few minutes. Watching Isaac (Brett Gelman, who also co-scripted) direct theater is like being around R. Crumb if he couldn't draw and knew only how to bizarro-insult one of his actors and puff up the other. Lemon has a scene where a socially-arrested white protagonist goes with his black girlfriend to her family's barbecue, and when one speaks with a Caribbean lilt, he says, "You didn't say there'd be accents." A late scene has him run into the bathroom just in time to relieve himself (we see it). But there's no toilet paper (rimshot). And no shower (double rimshot). But he gets an important call and guess what happens to the phone. Guess. (VM)

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