Very Good Girls
Following best friends in their formative summer before leaving for college,Very Good Girls premiered to a warm reception. This coming of age film gently but realistically handles how a mutual crush decimates the closeness between two girls. Elizabeth Olsen already feels too old to be playing just out of high school but Dakota Fanning carries delicate youth off quite well. Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore have parts that amount to little more than cameos as the parents of Olsen’s character. Sundance favorite Olsen could not attend the first showing of the film at the Eccles theater due to a conflict with school. Fanning appeared and discussed the decision not to show the movie’s teenagers overly engaging with their cellphones. She cited the reasoning that although young people are constantly in touch through technology, focusing on the intimacy of conversation would add more depth to the reciprocity on-screen. Director Naomi Foner (mother of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) said in telling a story she wants to first “…create characters, then write around the characters.” This tale is not just about the sexual awakening of young womanhood but about tearing down boundaries, changing and taking chances.
Lovelace takes a hard insider look at the abusive horrors that the infamous porno Deep Throatconcealed. Star Linda Lovelace suffered at the hands of her husband before and after filming. With scattered laughter as the truth gradually unfolded, the audience had difficulty transitioning from the relatively comedic first half to the revelations of exploitation. Linda’s brief celebrity was anything but glamorous as she was prostituted out to strangers, barely paid and beaten. Having legendary feminist Gloria Steinem and Linda’s children close to the project, director Rob Epstein felt that the project was “…about recovering Linda’s humanity.” Several years after the spotlight of Deep Throat faded, Linda wrote a tell all book called “Ordeal” in which she chronicled how easily her trauma was hidden in the pornography industry and how vulnerable to sexual attacks she became. Star Amanda Seyfried said she was appreciative of the fact that there was a “…responsibility to portray Linda as she would want to be portrayed.” Peter Sarsgaard had a tough time playing Linda’s violent husband Chuck Traynor. He explained that his love for his own family caused him for weeks to wander around his house in turmoil about the sadistic role. He sighed “I think my resistance to the role really shows on-screen.” Lovelace may not be the as explicit or funny as many want it to be but it does explicate how a naive girl from a religious home found herself at the center of an X-rated pop culture phenomenon which almost killed her.
Adam Scott plays a man who believes he has his life together until uncovering that a best-selling book on divorce was written about his disastrous childhood. The film generated a lot of laughs but failed to comically overwhelm the audience into ovation like the premiere screening of The Way, Way Back did. Won over by the performances of indie favorites Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara, a side character from Jessica Alba falls flat. She is a purposeless detour from the plot that without providing a meaningful reason for interrupting Scott’s love life, quickly feels terribly out of place. The audience applauded the hardest when co-star Amy Poehler took the stage. She enjoys working with Adam Scott and loved treating him so meanly for a change. The cast seemed at home with one another and those relationships translated well in the film.A.C.O.D. is an awkward but amusing adventure into how maturity factors into true love.
A somber effort at depicting the events and thoughts behind Kerouac’s trip out west to write reclusively, Big Sur takes a sublime look at nature’s effect on creativity. Kerouac’s depression is palpable and the outdoors works well to echo his moods. Actor Jean-Marc Barr of the Lars Von Trier film Dogville conveys total commitment in displaying the destructive alcoholism that consumed the great writer. Josh Lucas is surprisingly authentic reflecting the nervous, blue collar energy of Jack’s good friend and muse Neal Cassady. Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, Man on Fire) is underutilized as the often neglected wife of Cassady. Director Michael Polish wanted the film to reproduce how Kerouac and his friends lived out “…the spirituality of what America was about.” The enthusiastic freewill of the Beat generation (seen in the Sundance premiere of Kill Your Darlings) is still present here but has now been sadly subdued by time and the negative effects of celebrity. Big Sur is a beautiful albeit melancholy watch that resonates long after the credits roll.
A moving tribute to a true life victim of police brutality, every moment of Fruitvale is filled with a looming sense of tragedy. From the very beginning of the film one knows from an actual cell phone video how and where young Oscar Grant is killed. In his feature debut director Ryan Coogler set out “…for people to think about how we treat each other, how we treat strangers and how we treat those we love.” Actor Michael B. Jordan gives a multi-dimensional performance as Grant, who is trying to stay on a good life path for the sake of his daughter and girlfriend. The normal interactions that Oscar has in what happens to be his last hours alive touch upon all his hopes and unresolved issues. The petty reasons why people fight and kill each other look particularly small when compared to the strength Oscar is able to gain from the extremely short time he has with his family. This fourth showing of the film had a packed house and saw a prolonged standing ovation for Ryan Coogler as he came up on stage. Fruitvale is emerging as the breakout film of the festival- being lauded for strong performances, storytelling and a fresh take on the cost of violence in America.
– Lane Scarberry
The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 17 to October 27, 2012. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official website.