The Sundance Film Festival’s Premieres section is “A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.”
Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
From the writing and directing duo that brought us Half Nelson and It’s Kind of a Funny Story comes Mississippi Grind, starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn as a pair of desperate gamblers on the road. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have thus far earned a solid indie reputation, so there’s not much reason to doubt that they’ll deliver engaging content even if one’s unsure of the acting team that’s being put to task. Reynolds’ name may suffer from overexposure in big studio flops like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Green Lantern, whereas Mendelsohn’s growing respectability flies well below pop culture’s radar. Reynolds’ The Captive was met with derision at Cannes but there was a more positive reaction to director Marjane Satrapi’s use of him in The Voices, which debuted last Sundance and is just now getting a release. The dynamic Mendelsohn has slowly been gaining critical traction as a character actor with head turning roles in Killing Them Softly and the gritty Starred Up. Who knows if Reynolds and Mendelsohn will have repartee good enough to keep the narrative going, but finally having Mendelsohn front and center definitely carries an anxious thrill to see what he can deliver when let loose as a lead in an American movie.
Written by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess
Directed by Jared Hess
The wife and husband team behind the breakout Sundance success Napoleon Dynamite add another bizarre entry to their filmography with Don Verdean. Peculiarities are to be expected, and who better to portray the film’s main characters than beloved cinematic oddballs Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement. Here Clement hunts for progressively fantastical biblical relics to give Rockwell’s crusade for Jesus validity and attention. Fraud, exaggeration, and the telling presence of Danny McBride are sure to complicate the situation. Rockwell has been at Sundance two years running with the coming-of-age comedy The Way Way Back and Laggies, Lynn Shelton’s deft tale of arrested development. Aside from the creative renown of Flight of the Conchords, Clement has garnered praise with Eagle vs. Shark and the satirical horror flick What We Do in the Shadows out of his native New Zealand. With movies set in New York saturating the Premieres category (Sleeping with Other People, Brooklyn, Mistress America, Ten Thousand Saints), it’s lovely to see something that appears to be so completely off the map in terms of location, subject matter and delivery. Here’s hoping that Don Verdean will be more cohesive than Gentlemen Broncos, but as memorably eccentric as Napoleon Dynamite.
The End of the Tour
Written by David Lipsky and Donald Margulies
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Delving into an intimate interview with an acclaimed author, The End of the Tour will challenge viewers to appreciate the late David Foster Wallaces’s ramblings to a reporter from Rolling Stone over 5 days in 1996, with the likelihood that any prior knowledge of his personality, writings or philosophies is minimal. This leaves the dialogue of the movie to largely stand on its own in an attempt to encapsulate Foster Wallace’s relevance. Reporter David Lipsky turned his interview into the book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself which the filmmakers bought the right to produce. Not much has been made from Foster Wallace’s books given their complicated nature, save actor-director John Krasinski’s adaptation of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men- so his representation in the film world is burgeoning and could potentially awaken interest in helping more of his works to the big screen. The End of the Tour is charged with keeping a lengthy discussion lively, insightful and true to the man’s legacy. Jason Segel may not seem like the best fit to interpret Foster Wallace, but his thoughtful reactions sometimes possess an energetic readiness and an air of hard-earned maturity that might end up impressing the casual observer coming into this movie only knowing him from sitcom How I Met Your Mother. As journalist Lipsky, Jesse Eisenberg is strangely playing second fiddle to Segel. Eisenberg thankfully continues to embrace low-budget roles in films like last year’s Night Moves and The Double, even as he stars as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the sequel to Now You See Me. Given the seriousness of director James Ponsoldt’s previous Sundance selections, Smashed and The Spectacular Now, audiences will likely be in for a grim assessment of the late Wallace laced with a dark, stinging humor. It’s unfortunate that the author’s estate has expressed dissatisfaction that the project has gone forward. Still, the combination of the talent at play and the inherent risk in tastefully recreating Foster’s brilliance is enough to warrant a look. At best, the story could be an intelligent albeit abbreviated conversation, and at worst a simplification of a great mind.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach
Baumbach’s last standout effort was Frances Ha, which starred his muse and girlfriend Greta Gerwig. Both return to give us Mistress America, another quirky New York City tale about a woman on the cusp of adulthood. Here Gerwig appears to be playing the opposite of Frances — composed, confident and self-aware. She is able to take an ill-at-ease young woman (Lola Kirke) under her wing and get her into plenty of upper-class trouble. Potentially the women could have meaningful conversations (a rarity in cinema) about intellect and wealth along the lines of the absurdities discussed by the clueless sophisticates of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, or the plot could veer straight into silly happenstances brought on by hasty choices. Wherever Mistress America goes, it looks as though it will be a play upon the ups and downs of chasing the American dream in Manhattan, and although it may be mining the same whimsical territory as Frances Ha, it will optimistically breathe new life into the further exploration of the choices that women make in the face of cultural expectations.
— Lane Scarberry