About the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition: “Presenting the world premieres of 16 narrative feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film.”
The Skeleton Twins
Directed by Craig Johnson
Written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman
Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig headline a drama as twins reconnecting with each other and life. The plot seems vaguely reminiscent of The Savages, which starred Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as siblings bonding over the slow death of their father. However, with these characters focusing solely on one another, the built-in chemistry Hader and Wiig have together will no doubt factor heavily into the audience’s enjoyment, especially if viewers are already fans. They played a couple in charge of an amusement park in the 2009 comedy Adventureland and have a witty way of playing off each other’s strengths. Wiig has been bolstered by her breakout success but her projects after Bridesmaids have failed to connect critically. Beyond SNL and his T-Mobile spokesmanship, Hader is also a charming host for the upbeat TCM Essentials Jr., a show that curates family friendly films for Turner Classic Movies. Hader’s shot to show that he has the skill to anchor a feature (aside from his voice work in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies) and steal a bit of the spotlight from Wiig is a formidable challenge that will hopefully pan out for this amiable personality.
Life After Beth
Written and directed by Jeff Baena
Making its debut so soon after the release of Warm Bodies, Life After Beth might feel like a retread of living loving the living dead territory but the fact that this has been placed in the U.S. Dramatic Competition and not in the Park City at Midnight section (exclusively devoted to horror films) denotes that this film is something special. Dane DeHaan has been a dramatic force to reckon with in such films as Chronicle, Lawless, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Sundance 2013’s Kill Your Darlings. Likewise, Aubrey Plaza has proved she can push past deadpan April of Parks and Recreation as evidenced in the engaging independent work of Safety Not Guaranteed. The premise of continuing a relationship after your significant other has passed away is perhaps precisely the brand of absurd that will play well with audiences and give DeHaan an adventuresome vehicle to get the recognition he deserves.
Written and directed by Kat Chandler
After the incredible success of Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul’s follow-up role in the video game based action blockbuster Need for Speed is a bit of a let down given the incredible range we’ve already seen from him. Out of Sundance thankfully comes Hellion, an independent antidote (based on the short film by director Chandler that premiered at Sundance 2012) primed with all the right narrative cues to give Paul a chance to prove himself all over again.
Directed by Jeff Preiss
Written by Amy Albany and Topper Lilien
John Hawkes continues his streak of choosing challenging roles, this time tackling the drug-addled life of the troubled musician Joe Albany. This will be his fourth time in 5 years with a Sundance premiere following the triumphs of Winter’s Bone in 2010, Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2011, and 2012’s The Sessions. Elle Fanning (Ginger & Rosa, Somewhere) feels like a good match to play Albany’s daughter opposite Hawkes, as she possesses a wise-beyond-her-years quality during dramatic deliveries.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Directed David Zellner
Written by: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
A sad venture into the power of cinema and wanting to break free of monotony, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter dramatizes a popular urban legend about an Asian woman who seeks the buried money from Fargo. It doesn’t look like the Zellner Brothers (behind Goliath and Kid-Thing) will directly name the Coen Brothers’ movie as behind the young woman’s quest but it won’t take much of the outrageous Minnesotan accent amidst the snowy landscape to know exactly what film Kumiko obsesses over. This forlorn, one-woman show might just be perfect for Rinko Kikuchi- who caught people’s attention as a deaf teenager in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel and was featured prominently in Guillermo del Toro’s ambitiously silly Pacific Rim.
— Lane Scarberry