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Sundance 2016 

From past years' hits to this year's tips, a primer for what to expect from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

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Sundance 2016 by the Book
From Page to Screen, Here are some Potential Sundance Darlings.

Every year, the Sundance Film Festival catalog presents a bounty of options—many of which are unknown quantities. And every year, we try to make the unknown slightly better known by looking at movies based on books. Here are a handful of Sundance 2016 titles, "previewed" via an analysis of their source material, with the caveat that plenty of good movies have been made from bad books, and vice versa.

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Goat, by Brad Land
Festival Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition
Book Overview: In this potent memoir, Land describes a traumatic incident as a young college student in which he's abducted and assaulted by car thieves, the psychic fallout of which leads him to follow his younger brother to a new university and pledging a fraternity. Land's insinuating style provides a frightening power to the sequences describing his traumatizing ordeal, and the unsettling parallels with being hazed. The relationship between Land and his brother Brett allows for a solid relationship focus, even when the narrative over the book's final third begins to drift through episodic events on the road to closure.
Book Grade: B

Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Co-written by David Gordon Green, perhaps returning to the small-town intensity of early work like George Washington and All the Real Girls.

Reason for Adaptation Concern: When removed from the hallucinatory quality of Land's prose, it will be awfully hard for the film to avoid wallowing in the most extreme and exploitative elements.

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Sophie and the Rising Sun, by Augusta Trobaugh
Festival Category: Premieres
Book Overview: In a coastal Southern town circa 1941, the tentative friendship between spinster Sophie and Japanese-American gardener Mr. Oto is complicated by the onset of World War II. Trobaugh draws from what feels like an obligatory template for stories set in pre-Civil Rights-era Southern towns, what with the prejudiced busybodies and the one or two forward-thinkers fighting against the tide and so forth. Despite a valiant effort at making Mr. Oto more than a representation of what people unreasonably fear, he feels mostly like a device to manufacture a gentle, occasionally effective star-crossed romance, and a chance to tut-tut at frightened bigots.
Book Grade: C

Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Writer/director Maggie Greenwald's 2000 Sundance feature Songcatcher was an effective, thoughtful drama about colliding cultures.

Reason for Adaptation Concern: Premise feels almost predestined less for character study than for narrative self-righteousness.

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The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison (for the film The Fundamentals of Caring)
Festival Category: Premieres
Book Overview: Ben Benjamin, newly trained as an in-home caregiver, tries to overcome the grief from a family tragedy while forging a friendship with his first client, a young man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. A lengthy road trip ultimately ensues—Salt Lake City is its final destination—with Ben picking up various other folks along the way to allow for quirky interactions and the important learning of life lessons. It's all fairly schematic—and plays far too coy for far too long with the specifics of Ben's tragedy—but Evison is a talented enough writer to give the individual episodes some pop along the way to the conclusion it might have been easy to anticipate from at least the half-way point.
Book Grade: B-

Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Paul Rudd feels like the perfect casting choice for Ben's mix of sardonic humor and genuine sadness.

Reason for Adaptation Concern: Longtime David Letterman executive producer Rob Burnett may not have the experienced directorial hand required to avoid this material's easiest pitfalls.

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Indignation, by Philip Roth
Festival Category: Premieres
Book Overview: Marcus Messner, a Jewish native New Yorker, struggles to adjust to life at an Ohio university in 1951 after transferring to get away from his overbearing father. Roth has long been the master of chronicling the American Jewish experience in the 20th century, and here he does a fascinating job of creating a character whose overachiever mentality and stubborn collisions with Protestant orthodoxy—along with his obsessions with sex—become part of his downfall. He also drops in an unexpected [SPOILER] of a narrative device before the halfway point, framing the remainder of the story in a way that makes every one of Marcus' choices loaded with significance.
Book Grade: B+

Reason for Adaptation Optimism: It may be the first feature directing credit for James Schamus, but his long history as a writer/producer with Ang Lee shows the quality in the movies he touches.

Reason for Adaptation Concern: Recent history—The Human Stain, Elegy, The Humbling—has not suggested that the challenges of adapting Roth for the screen are easily overcome.

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Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (for the film Love & Friendship)
Festival Category: Premieres
Book Overview: This lesser-known Austen novella—written before all of her beloved novels—is the epistolary story of the recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon, who leaves the town where her behavior has inspired potential scandal, to visit with the brother of her late husband and his wife. There's an unexpectedly wicked kick to the tale, as letters between Lady Susan and her best friend Alicia reveal the unpleasant manipulator she carefully hides through her charms. Many of the other key characters besides Lady Susan and her sister-in-law remain more enigmatic by virtue of being second-hand characters in these letters, but Austen makes a winning narrative out of the collision between surface social niceties and someone who knows how to bend everyone around her to her will.
Book Grade: B+

Reason for Adaptation Optimism: A welcome reunion—albeit in an unexpected context—of writer/director Whit Stillman and his The Last Days of Disco co-stars Kate Beckinsale (as Lady Susan) and Chloë Sevigny (as Alicia).

Reason for Adaptation Concern: Stillman's milieu has always been young people in a contemporary setting, so it's unclear how he'll make the transition to a Regency period piece.

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